US and Russian negotiators face off in Geneva over Ukraine

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GENEVA (REUTERS) – After days of pessimistic statements on both sides, the United States and Russia began tough negotiations in Geneva on Monday (Jan 10) that Washington hopes can avert the danger of a new Russian invasion of Ukraine without conceding to the Kremlin’s far-reaching security demands.

The talks between Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and Deputy US Secretary of State Wendy Sherman began at the US diplomatic mission in Geneva with US-Russia relations at their most tense since the Cold War ended three decades ago.

The pair made only brief eye contact when they posed for photographs beforehand.

“The talks promise to be long and substantial,” the Russian diplomatic mission in Geneva tweeted, with a picture of the two lead negotiators standing in front of their national flags.

Ms Sherman said “the US will listen to Russia’s concerns and share our own” in an earlier tweet from Geneva, adding that no discussions on European security would be held without the presence of other allies.

Discussions will move to meetings in Brussels and Vienna later this week.

Nearly 100,000 Russian troops are gathered within reach of the border with Ukraine in preparation for what Washington and Kiev say could be a new invasion, eight years after Russia seized the Crimea peninsula from the former Soviet republic.

Russia denies invasion plans and said it is responding to what it calls aggressive behavior from the Nato military alliance and Ukraine, which has tilted towards the West and aspires to join Nato.

Last month, Russia presented sweeping demands including a ban on further Nato expansion and an end to the alliance’s activity in Central and Eastern European countries that joined it after 1997.

The United States and Nato say large parts of the Russian proposals are non-starters.

Mr Ryabkov told RIA news agency that Russia would not accept US attempts to limit the agenda to discussion of military exercises and missile deployments – the topics outlined by the Biden administration as areas it is willing to broach.

“We need legal guarantees of the non-expansion of Nato and the elimination of everything that the alliance has created since 1997,” Mr Ryabkov said.

Russia had tried to show flexibility for the past 30 years and it was time for the other side to be flexible, he added.

“If they are unable to do this, they will face a worsening situation in their own security.”

The two countries are also at odds over Russia’s deployment of troops in Kazakhstan after an uprising there last week, its support for Belarus in a migrant crisis on the European Union’s border, and what Washington sees as Russia’s use of its gas supplies to Europe to gain political leverage over its neighbours.

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