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Russia conducts tank drills near Ukraine, pessimistic about talks with US

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov attend security talks at the United States Mission in Geneva, Switzerland January 10, 2022. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

On Tuesday, Russia conducted live-fire drills with troops and tanks near the Ukrainian border, while sounding pessimistic about the possibilities for talks with the US, which Washington believes will eliminate the threat of an invasion of Ukraine.

The news: The defence ministry said approximately 3,000 servicemen had begun combat training, including practise battles, in four districts of southern Russia, a day after the US side requested Russia to pull down an estimated 100,000 troops from near the border during talks in Geneva.

  • The drills suggested that the Kremlin had no intention of relaxing the military pressure that has forced the US to negotiate, with Moscow demanding broad security guarantees from the West.

What they’re saying: Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesperson, said Monday’s talks were encouraging in that they were open, substantial, and direct, but that there was no reason to be optimistic.

  • He stated that Russia is looking for speedy results. “There are no clear deadlines here, and no one is setting them; all we have is the Russian attitude that we will not be content if this process drags on indefinitely.”
  • Peskov stated that the situation would become clearer following two further rounds of negotiations with NATO in Brussels on Wednesday and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Vienna on Thursday.
  • Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland told reporters that the Kremlin’s lack of optimism in the discussions was “disappointing,” but that Washington wanted the “constructive” exchange of views to continue.
  • Russia practising live-fire drills “clearly moves in the exact opposite direction” of the de-escalation Washington seeks, according to Nuland.
  • Russia has stated numerous times that it has no intention of attacking Ukraine, but that it has the right to deploy its soldiers on its own soil as it sees fit.
  • Moscow maintains that the US and its allies have ruled out the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO. It also wants ex-communist countries that have joined NATO since the conclusion of the Cold War to have their forces and weapons removed.
  • Washington has stated that it will not accept these demands, but it is open to negotiate other aspects of Russia’s plans, such as missile installations and military exercise size limitations.
  • After the Geneva discussions on Monday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov claimed the two parties had “in some ways opposing perspectives. It is absolutely vital for us to ensure that Ukraine never, ever, ever joins NATO.”
  • “We were firm… in pushing back on security ideas that are just non-starters for the United States,” said US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman.
  • NATO has no plans to admit Ukraine in the near future, but Russia cannot dictate its relations with other sovereign states, according to the alliance.
  • “Russia has no right to vote on Ukraine’s membership in NATO. This is a red line that Ukraine and its allies will not cross,” Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister said to the RBK-Ukraine news agency.
  • “The starting line for discussing security guarantees in the Euro-Atlantic region should begin with Russia’s de-escalation of the security situation along the Ukrainian border and Russia’s disengagement from Donbass and Crimea, no matter how many times Russian diplomats walk around in circles,” he added.

The backstory: Since 2014, when Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine, Russian-backed rebels have been fighting Ukrainian troops in the easterly Donbass area, killing over 15,000 people.

  • Ukraine has been ruled by Moscow for generations, including as part of the Soviet Union, and President Vladimir Putin has declared that NATO membership or the stationing of weaponry capable of striking Russia is a “red line.”

In two talks with Putin last month, US President Joe Biden warned that any fresh Russian aggression would result in significant economic penalties in the form of unprecedented sanctions. Putin said that such actions would be a huge mistake that would result in a complete breakdown of relations.

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