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Blinken to meet with senior Russian as Ukraine tensions soar |

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet with his Russian counterpart in Switzerland this week as tensions between the U.S. and Russia escalate over a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine, the State Department said Tuesday.

The State Department said Blinken will travel to Kyiv on Wednesday to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, move on to Berlin and then meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva on Friday. The hastily arranged trip aims to show U.S. support for Ukraine and impress on Russia the need for de-escalation.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki underscored the urgency. “We’re now at a stage where Russia could at any point launch an attack in Ukraine. And what Secretary Blinken is going to go do is highlight very clearly there is a diplomatic path forward,” she said.

Psaki said Russian President Vladimir Putin created the crisis by massing 100,000 troops along Ukraine’s borders and it is up to him and the Russians to decide whether to invade and then “suffer severe economic consequences.”

The U.S. has not concluded whether Putin plans to invade or whether the show of force is intended to squeeze security concessions without an actual conflict. Russia has brushed off calls to withdraw its troops by saying it has a right to deploy its forces wherever it likes on its own territory.

Blinken’s meetings follow inconclusive diplomatic talks between Moscow and the West in Europe last week that failed to resolve stark disagreements over Ukraine and other security matters.

Instead, those meetings appear to have increased fears of a Russian invasion, and the Biden administration has accused Russia of preparing a “false flag operation” to use as a pretext for intervention. Russia has angrily denied the charge.

From Kyiv, Blinken will travel to Berlin, where he will meet with his German, British and French counterparts to discuss a possible response to any Russian military action. In Geneva on Friday, Blinken will be testing Lavrov on Russia’s interest in a “diplomatic off-ramp” for the crisis, a senior State Department official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Blinken’s “travel and consultations are part of the diplomatic efforts to de-escalate the tension caused by Russia’s military build-up and continued aggression against Ukraine,” the State Department said in a statement.

Blinken will meet with Zelenskyy and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Wednesday “to reinforce the United States’ commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the State Department said.

“The trip follows extensive diplomacy with our European Allies and partners about a united approach to address the threat Russia poses to Ukraine and our joint efforts to encourage it to choose diplomacy and de-escalation in the interests of security and stability,” it said.

CIA Director William Burns visited Kyiv last Wednesday to consult with his Ukrainian counterparts and discuss current assessments of the risk to Ukraine, a U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss Burns’ schedule, which is classified. While there, he also discussed the current situation with Zelenskyy and efforts to de-escalate tensions.

Blinken spoke by phone Tuesday with Lavrov, discussing the diplomatic talks and meetings held last week. The State Department said Blinken “stressed the importance of continuing a diplomatic path to de-escalate tensions” surrounding the Russia-Ukraine situation and “reiterated the unshakable U.S. commitment” to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

On Monday, Lavrov, Russia’s top diplomat, rejected the U.S. allegations that his country was preparing a pretext to invade Ukraine. Speaking to reporters, he dismissed the U.S. claim as “total disinformation.”

Lavrov reaffirmed that Russia expects a written response this week from the U.S. and its allies to Moscow’s request for binding guarantees that NATO will not embrace Ukraine or any other ex-Soviet countries or station its forces and weapons there.

Blinken underscored to Lavrov on Tuesday that any discussion of European security “must include NATO Allies and European partners, including Ukraine,” the State Department said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said Lavrov emphasized in the call with Blinken the key aspects of Russian draft documents envisaging “legally binding guarantees of Russia’s security in line with the principle of indivisibility of security approved by all countries in the Euro-Atlantic.” It said Lavrov stressed the importance for Washington to quickly deliver a written response to the Russian proposals.

Washington and its allies firmly rejected Moscow’s demands during last week’s Russia-U.S. negotiations in Geneva and a related NATO-Russia meeting in Brussels.

The White House said Friday that U.S. intelligence officials had concluded that Russia had already deployed operatives to rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine to carry out acts of sabotage there and blame them on Ukraine to create a pretext for possible invasion.

Ahead of Blinken’s visit to Kyiv, a delegation of U.S. senators was visiting Ukraine to emphasize congressional support for the country.

“Our bipartisan congressional delegation sends a clear message to the global community: the United States stands in unwavering support of our Ukrainian partners to defend their sovereignty and in the face of persistent Russian aggression,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, said in a statement.

Speaking Monday on a visit to Kyiv, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock warned that “any further escalation would carry a high price for the Russian regime — economic, political and strategic,” and she emphasized the need to continue negotiations.

“We are prepared to have a serious dialogue with Russia, because diplomacy is the only way to defuse this highly dangerous situation at the moment,” she said.

Russia in 2014 seized the Crimean Peninsula after the ouster of Ukraine’s Moscow-friendly leader and also threw its weight behind a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine. More than 14,000 people have been killed in nearly eight years of fighting between the Russia-backed rebels and Ukrainian forces in the country’s industrial heartland called Donbas.

Putin has warned that Moscow will take unspecified “military-technical measures” if the West stonewalls its demands.

___

Associated Press writer Vladimir Isachenkov contributed to this report from Moscow.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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США и НАТО заявили о готовности продолжить диалог с Россией | Власть | Новости

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14 января в Белом доме и Пентагоне сообщили, что Москва подготовила группу оперативников для проведения операции "под чужим флагом", которая должна будет оправдать вторжение российских войск в Украину. В Белом доме отметили, что они могут начать осуществление провокаций за несколько недель до начала военных действий. Накануне в Кремле назвали "голословными" сообщения о подготовке провокаций.

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“Putin Does Not Take Europe Seriously”

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Sylvia Wörgetter: The United States and NATO are talking with Russia about the future of Ukraine, a European country, but the European Union is not at the table. What does that tell us about the EU?

Kleine-Brockhoff: That Vladimir Putin would prefer to bypass the European Union because he doesn’t consider it relevant enough. He sees himself as the head of one sphere of influence and wants to talk to the man who, in his mind, is the head of the other sphere of influence, namely US President Joe Biden.

EU Foreign Affairs Chief Josep Borrell demands that security in Europe should not be negotiated without the Europeans. But that is exactly what seems to be happening now.

No, that is not what is happening. Joe Biden is responding to Putin’s apparent attempt to split America off from Europe and circumvent the EU by trying to involve the Europeans as deeply as possible in the talks. He and his Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, have emphasized repeatedly: “Nothing about Europe without Europe.” The European-American consultations before and after each round of negotiations are extremely intense. I don’t even want to imagine how that would look if Donald Trump was still US president.

Negotiations are also taking place in the NATO-Russia Council. More than two dozen European countries are members of NATO. And even more European countries are represented in the OSCE, which meets in Vienna. No European self-pity, please!

France’s President Emmanuel Macron is calling for a separate European security architecture. Is there now a chance to move EU defense policy forward?

At the moment, we Europeans are quite happy that we can hide behind the Americans who are doing the diplomatic heavy lifting. One can only hope that Europe will draw the necessary conclusions from this military threat. I wish we would talk less about defense identities and such soft things and more about hard defense and what capabilities we need.

Are you thinking about a European army?

One of the reasons the Russians don’t want to talk to the Europeans is that the Europeans don’t have weapons that threaten Russia. Unfortunately, you can hear this almost verbatim from Moscow. As long as Western countries—first and foremost Germany—do not keep their commitments within the NATO alliance, Russia will not take Europe seriously. Military strength is the currency that counts in Moscow. On this basis, however, one can negotiate and expect concessions and cooperation.

That means Europe would have to rearm and upgrade its military massively. That is the logic of deterrence and the Cold War.

I would put it differently: We have disarmed almost to the point of being unable to defend ourselves. Now the task is to restore the basis of national and alliance defense. But we are not even willing to pay the bargain price that results from cost sharing within an alliance. In the end, only NATO will provide the necessary deterrent, not a European army, which will remain a fantasy.

The EU threatens Russia with massive sanctions if it invades Ukraine. How credible is such a threat when states like Austria and parts of the German chancellor’s party, the SPD, want to exempt the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from this threat and let Russian gas flow?

Anyone who wants to preserve the peace must be able to use some kind of leverage vis à vis Vladimir Putin to convince him that the price of sending his troops across the borderline and into Ukraine is too high. Nord Stream 2 is such a lever. If you don’t want to use this lever, you have to have others. My question to the defenders of Nord Stream 2 is: which lever can they use that is strong enough to keep the peace?

Putin is demanding from the West that no additional countries be allowed to join NATO. The United States and NATO oppose that. What might a compromise look like?

Russia is the largest nuclear power in the world. Nobody in the world is safer from attacks. And that very country is now demanding security guarantees. It remains Moscow’s secret how those two fit together.

Nevertheless, there is potential for negotiation in the Russian draft treaty. Namely, if the process of negotiations leads to renewing the arms control architecture that has been undermined by Russian treaty breaches and the hubris of the Trump administration. That is the constructive part of the Russian proposals.

Do you think war is on the horizon?

You have to ask the aggressor, namely Vladimir Putin. Whoever amasses a six-digit number of soldiers on a border and sets an ultimatum for negotiations has committed something like a predatory extortion with hostage-taking. Now negotiations are to be conducted with the hostage-taker at gunpoint. Whether he will pull the trigger is difficult to predict. Negotiation skills are now required on the Western side to raise the price for Vladimir Putin so much that he lets go of his victim.

What is he after?

He already told us in his 2007 speech at the Munich Security Conference and has since underlined it through various military interventions: the reconstruction of a Russian empire.


This article was originally published in German by Salzburger Nachrichten on January 12, 2022, under the headline "Putin nimmt die Europäer nicht ernst" and was republished in English with permission. Original translation made possible with <a href="http://www.DeepL.com/Translator" rel="nofollow">www.DeepL.com/Translator</a> (free version).

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Sikorski sharply towards Lavrov. “If you try again you’ll get a kick in the balls” - SparkChronicles

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Russia warns of Cuba, Venezuela deployment if tensions mount

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MOSCOW (AP) — A senior Russian diplomat warned on Thursday that a Russian military deployment to Cuba and Venezuela can’t be excluded if tensions with the United States mount.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, who led the Russian delegation in Monday’s talks in Geneva, said in remarks televised Thursday that he would neither confirm nor exclude the possibility that Russia could put its military infrastructure in Cuba and Venezuela. The negotiations in Geneva and Wednesday’s NATO-Russia meeting in Vienna failed to narrow the gap on Moscow’s security demands amid a buildup of Russian troops near Ukraine.

Speaking in an interview with Russian RTVI TV broadcast, Ryabkov noted that “it all depends on the action by our U.S. counterparts,” noting that Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that Russia could take military-technical measures if the U.S. acts to provoke Russia and raise military pressure on it.

Ryabkov said that the U.S. and NATO have rejected the key Russian demand for guarantees precluding the alliance’s expansion to Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations, adding that the stark difference in approaches raises doubts about the possibility of continuing the talks.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

MOSCOW (AP) — The Kremlin on Thursday said it deplored the lack of progress in talks on Moscow’s demand for security guarantees against NATO’s eastward expansion and strongly rebuffed Western calls for a pullback of Russian troops from areas near Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also warned of a complete rupture U.S.-Russian relations if proposed sanctions targeting Russian President Vladimir Putin and other top civilian and military leaders are adopted. The measures, proposed by Senate Democrats, would also target leading leading Russian financial institutions if Moscow sends troops into Ukraine.

Russia and the West took uncompromising stands during the talks this week to discuss the tensions over Ukraine. While Moscow demanded a halt to NATO expansion, Washington and its allies firmly rejected them as a nonstarter.

Monday’s Russia-U.S. talks in Geneva and Wednesday’s Russia-NATO meeting in Brussels failed to narrow the gap, although the parties left the possibility open for future talks on arms control and ways to prevent military incidents between Russia and the West.

Peskov noted “some positive elements and nuances” during the talks, but noted stark disagreements on Russia’s key demands.

“The talks were initiated to receive specific answers to concrete principal issues that were raised, and disagreements remained on those principal issues, which is bad,” he said in a conference call with reporters.

Peskov criticized the proposals by Senate Democrats as an attempt to up the pressure on Moscow during the talks, saying it wouldn’t work.

“It concerns sanctions, which taking into account the inevitable adequate response, effectively amount to an initiative to rupture relations,” he warned, adding that Russian will respond in kind to protect its interests.

The talks come as an estimated 100,000 combat-ready Russian troops, tanks and heavy military equipment are massed near Ukraine’s eastern border. The buildup has caused deep concerns in Kyiv and the West that Moscow is preparing for an invasion. Russia denies that it’s pondering an invasion and in turn accuses the West of threatening its security by positioning military personnel and equipment in Central and Eastern Europe.

Peskov rebuffed the West’s calls for Russia to help deescalate tensions by pulling back troops from areas near Ukraine, noting that the country is free to move them wherever it deems necessary on its own territory.

“It’s hardly possible for NATO to dictate to us where we should move our armed forces on the Russian territory,” he said.

Peskov emphasized that Russia is ready to continue the talks but wants them to produce results. “There will be no deficit of a political will to continue the negotiations,” he said.

Tensions revolving around Ukraine and Russia’s demands on the West again appeared on the table at Thursday’s meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Vienna.

Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau, who assumed the position of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office, noted in his opening speech that “the risk of war in the OSCE area is now greater than ever before in the last 30 years.”

“For several weeks, we have been faced with the possibility of a major military escalation in Eastern Europe,” he said. “We have recently heard a demand for security guarantees related to an important part of the OSCE area and the renewed discourse about spheres of influence. All these aspects require a serious international assessment and a proper reaction.”

Rau emphasized the need to “focus on a peaceful resolution of a conflict in and around Ukraine ... in full respect of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.”

In 2014, Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula after the ouster of its Moscow-friendly leader and threw its weight behind a separatist insurgency in the country’s east, where more than seven years of fighting has killed over 14,000 people.

A 2015 peace deal brokered by France and Germany has helped end large-scale battles, but frequent skirmishes have continued and efforts to negotiate a political settlement have failed.

___

Emily Schultheis reported from Vienna.

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NATO and Russia Talk Frankly, but Past One Another for Now

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BRUSSELS — After four hours of talks with Russia, NATO leaders said that they were willing to engage in serious diplomacy with Moscow over arms control and missile deployments in Europe, but they rejected outright Russian demands that the alliance stop enlargement, pull back its forces from member states bordering Russia and guarantee that Ukraine will never join.

“Significant differences” remained between NATO and Russia, and “our differences will not be easy to bridge,” said the NATO secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, after the meeting.

“There is a real risk for new armed conflict in Europe,” Mr. Stoltenberg said, one that would carry severe economic and other costs to Moscow, he added, and would bring about new military deployments in member states near Russia.

The United States and its NATO and European Union allies are pressing Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, to abandon any further invasion of Ukraine, pull back his troops and engage in reciprocal diplomacy on Russia’s security concerns — and NATO’s.

Mr. Stoltenberg said that NATO allies urged Russia to “immediately de-escalate the situation in Ukraine,” where close to 100,000 Russian troops have massed near the borders, and to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbors. Russian representatives did not commit to pulling back the troops, nor did they reject the demand, officials said.

NATO allies reaffirmed their refusal to accept Russian demands to stop further enlargement with countries that wished to join the alliance and to withdraw all allied troops from NATO members bordering Russia. Those demands were repeated after the talks by the Russian deputy foreign minister, Aleksandr V. Grushko, a former permanent representative to NATO from 2012-18.

“This is a principled position, and we will not move from it,” he said. But he called the meeting “rather honest, direct, deep and comprehensive,” adding: “But at the same time, it showed a great amount of divergence on fundamental questions.”

“This was a heart-to-heart discussion,” Mr. Grushko said. “I think we were able to communicate to the members of the alliance that the situation is becoming unbearable.” It was a chance to remind NATO that Russia, too, may have a say in the future of European security, which could “carry risks,” Mr. Grushko said. “We support peaceful solutions based on balance,” he said.

Mr. Grushko’s comments indicated that Russia, for now, was not closing the door to further diplomacy, even though it has not committed to talks beyond this week. Russian officials said earlier this week that they would wait until the end of a full week of talks — which began with an informal dinner in Geneva on Sunday and will wrap up on Thursday in Vienna — before making a decision on how to continue.

Russian officials deny that the country is planning to invade Ukraine, but Mr. Putin has warned of an unspecified “military-technical” response if the West does not agree to Russia’s demands. Mr. Grushko reiterated that warning, without adding clarity to it.

“If NATO moves on to a policy of containment, then there will be a policy of counter-containment from our side,” Mr. Grushko said. “If there is deterrence, there will be counter-deterrence.”

Wendy R. Sherman, the deputy secretary of state who led the U.S. delegation to the talks, called some of Russia’s demands “simply non-starters” and emphasized NATO’s offers to Moscow for diplomacy.

Briefing reporters in Brussels, Ms. Sherman said that NATO officials laid out for the Russians areas “where we can work together and make real progress,” including on arms control, missile deployments, risk reduction and greater transparency in military exercises.

Mr. Stoltenberg said that NATO allies offered Russia a series of further meetings on wider issues of European security, including the issues Ms. Sherman raised. But while the Russian delegation was generally positive, he said, they would not or could not commit to a new meeting. That is another indication that even Russia’s top diplomats may not know what Mr. Putin’s intentions really are.

Ms. Sherman said that she hoped that after this long week of discussions with top Russian representatives, which continues on Thursday in Vienna, that they “will return to Moscow and that they will brief the president of Russia, and that they will all appreciate and understand, and the president of Russia will agree, that diplomacy is the correct path.”

She said the decision was up to Mr. Putin. “If Russia walks away,” she said, it would be “quite apparent that they were never serious about pursuing diplomacy at all.”

Washington and its allies promise “severe costs and consequences” if Russia further invades Ukraine, imposing “a severe price on Russia’s economy and financial system,” Ms. Sherman said.

Moscow’s choice will be important for the fate of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, meant to transport natural gas from Russia to Germany in the future, Ms. Sherman repeated. “From our perspective, it’s very hard to see gas flowing through the pipeline or for it to become operational if Russia renews its aggression on Ukraine.”

The pipeline, which is not yet operational, is a Russian geopolitical project that undermines the security of a “significant part of the Euro-Atlantic community,” she said.

The meeting at NATO’s Brussels headquarters was the second stop in a diplomatic roadshow focused on the Kremlin, after talks in Geneva on Monday between Russian and American officials. The meeting on Thursday in Vienna with the 57-member Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, including Ukraine, will take place at a lower diplomatic level — with ambassadors rather than foreign ministers and other top officials.

If Russia decides to pursue its aims diplomatically rather than go to war again in Ukraine, some of the negotiations on future European security will take place under the auspices of the O.S.C.E.

The Russian delegation at NATO was led by Mr. Grushko and the deputy defense minister, Aleksandr V. Fomin. They spoke at length at the start of the meeting, laying out Russia’s demands and concerns. In the subsequent exchanges, all 30 NATO members spoke with what Ms. Sherman called “amazing unity” on NATO’s core values, which include its openness to any country that wishes to join and qualifies to do so.

Before Wednesday’s meeting, Mr. Grushko told reporters that “the moment of truth in our relationship with the alliance is arriving,” according to Russian news agencies.

“This wasn’t an easy discussion, but that is exactly why this meeting was so important,” Mr. Stoltenberg said, adding that NATO allies and Russia had “a very serious and direct exchange on the situation in and around Ukraine, and implications for European security.”

The United States and its NATO allies hope that Mr. Putin will decide to negotiate, as he is now confronted with threats of punishing economic sanctions and new deployments in NATO allies bordering Russia, like Poland and the Baltic countries.

The issue of new deployments is a live discussion, the Estonian prime minister, Kaja Kallas, told Reuters. “Of course, we are discussing with our allies to increase their presence here to act as a deterrent,” she said. “If you look at the map, the Baltic states are a NATO peninsula and therefore we have our worries.”

Polish officials also seemed pleased with the American and NATO responses to Moscow’s demands. “Our position is clear,” Lukasz Jasina, the spokesman for Poland’s foreign minister, said. “Only NATO and member countries decide about NATO matters. And no one else.”

Russia is a neighbor but cannot be allowed to pressure others, said Poland’s deputy foreign minister, Marcin Przydacz. “What Russia has left is intimidation, but as this smaller partner, with a diminishing role in the world, the argument that ‘if you do not listen to us, we will beat the smaller colleague’ cannot be taken into account.”

After Monday’s talks, Sergei A. Ryabkov, who led the Russian side, warned that if the West did not agree to Russia’s demands to pull back NATO’s footprint in Eastern Europe and reject any future membership for Ukraine, it would face unspecified consequences that would put the “security of the whole European continent” at risk.

The Americans and Russians say that after this week, they will discuss whether to keep talking.

That is, unless Mr. Putin decides to argue that Washington and its allies do not take Russia’s demands seriously — and chooses to use this week as a pretext to go to war.

Anton Troianovski reported from Bratislava. Reporting was contributed by Monika Pronczuk in Brussels and Michael Crowley in Washington.

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