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Ukraine issue: Top diplomats for U.S., Russia meet in Geneva

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves as he arrives at Geneva Airport, in Geneva, Switzerland January 20, 2022. Alex Brandon/Pool via REUTERS

After a flurry of meetings between officials from both sides in the last week yielded no breakthroughs, Russia’s and the US’s top diplomats were to meet in Switzerland on Friday to discuss the escalating tensions over Ukraine.

The news: Following a trip through Europe to shore up US allies’ vows to slap Russia with sanctions if it goes ahead with an invasion of Ukraine, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken landed in Geneva for meetings with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is greeted by U.S ambassador to the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva Bathsheba Crocker, as he arrives at Geneva Airport, in Geneva, Switzerland January 20, 2022. Alex Brandon/Pool via REUTERS
  • President Joe Biden’s statements at a news conference on Wednesday, in which he predicted Russia would “move in” on Ukraine and stated Moscow would pay dearly, undermined Washington’s aspirations of forming a united front of opposition to Moscow.
  • Russia has amassed tens of thousands of troops on its Ukrainian border, raising fears that Moscow is contemplating another assault on the country it invaded in 2014 to take the Crimean Peninsula.
  • Russia denies planning an attack, but warns that if a list of demands isn’t met, including a guarantee from NATO not to accept Ukraine, it will take unspecified military action.

What they’re saying: When asked about Biden’s remarks, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov claimed Russia had been receiving similar warnings for at least a month.

  • ” We believe that they in no way contribute to defusing the tension that has now arisen in Europe and, moreover, can contribute to the destabilization of the situation,” Peskov said.
  • Blinken was in Kyiv on Wednesday to reassure Ukraine of US support. Blinken suggested Russian President Vladimir Putin might order an invasion soon before meeting with German, French, and British officials in Berlin on Thursday.
  • On Thursday Blinken said that diplomatic efforts this week had allowed him to represent a shared position of Western nations in Russia on Friday and encourage Moscow to back down.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken walks as he arrives at Geneva Airport, in Geneva, Switzerland January 20, 2022. Alex Brandon/Pool via REUTERS

What happened: However, Biden’s remarks on Wednesday, in which he warned that the West’s response might not be unanimous if Russia simply makes a “minor incursion” into Ukraine, appeared to erode that unity. The remarks compelled administration officials to make clarifications, but they sparked worries among US allies about Washington’s willingness to allow Putin some leeway in order to avoid a full-scale invasion.

  • On Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy appeared to issue a rebuke, warning ” the great powers that there are no minor incursions and small nations. Just as there are no minor casualties and little grief from the loss of loved ones.”
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