Ukraine crisis: US warns ‘drumbeats of war’ are sounding as talks with Russia end with no breakthrough

Both US and Russian officials expressed a pessimistic tone about the talks after Thursday’s meeting in Vienna at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). It was the third session that concluded a week of intense meetings that the United States and its NATO allies hoped could urge Russia to follow a path of “de-escalation and diplomacy” rather than the mobilize tens of thousands of Russian troops whose presence has increased along Ukraine’s borders.

But Russian officials reacted with frustration and impatience as they emerged from the meetings, suggesting they were ready to abandon discussions about the US and NATO’s refusal to comply with Moscow’s key demands: a guarantee that Ukraine will will never be allowed to join NATO and that the alliance will reverse its expansion in Eastern Europe. The US and its NATO allies have repeatedly said that such proposals from Moscow have nothing to do.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov suggested the talks had reached “a dead end or a difference of approach” as the US and NATO would not respond to Moscow’s demands that Ukraine never join NATO, it said he according to Russian state media TASS. Ryabkov said he saw no reason for the two sides to continue talks, even though the US has suggested they continue after this week.

After Thursday’s session, US Ambassador to the OSCE Michael Carpenter told reporters that “the drumroll of war is loud and the rhetoric has become rather shrill”.

US says Russia has made no commitments to de-escalate Ukraine crisis after latest round of talks

“We have to take this very seriously,” Carpenter said of the massive build-up of Russian troops along the border with Ukraine. “We need to prepare for the possibility of an escalation.”

Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau, the OSCE chairman, warned after Thursday’s meeting that the “risk of war in the OSCE area is now greater than at any time in the past 30 years.”

Diplomatic efforts this week – including separate sessions between Russia and the US, NATO and the OSCE – were aimed at pulling Russia out of a possible invasion of Ukraine. But Russia has not promised to withdraw the more than 100,000 troops now located along the border, and the Russian military conducted live fire drills along the border this week as talks continued.

‘The jury knows which path Vladimir Putin will choose’

US officials made it clear during the talks that they did not know whether Russia was serious about diplomacy or whether they only intended to use the sessions as a pretext for military action.

“The jury knows which path Vladimir Putin will take,” Foreign Minister Antony Blinken said in an interview with MSNBC on Thursday. “Is he going to take the path of diplomacy and dialogue to solve some of these problems or is he going to pursue confrontation and aggression?”

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters at the White House on Thursday that the US and its allies remain prepared for an outcome after this week’s talks.

“The discussions were frank and direct. They were helpful. They gave us and our allies things to think about; they gave Russia things to think about,” Sullivan said. “We will now reflect and consult with allies and partners on how to proceed,” Sullivan told reporters at the White House.

Sullivan said the Biden administration was planning to share information soon about Russian disinformation operations that could lay the groundwork for a pretext to invade Ukraine. “Our intelligence community has developed information, now degraded, that Russia is laying the groundwork for having the ability to concoct the pretext for invasion,” Sullivan said.

A senior US official said Russia has “continued to add capacity” at the border in recent days. The official said it was not a “significant” number of troops or equipment, but it is a signal that the Kremlin is not de-escalating.

Russia’s next move is still unclear

It is still unclear what the US plans to do if Russia does not de-escalate but also invade Ukraine. All week, US officials have said Russia will face consequences like they have never seen before if an invasion takes place. But the Biden administration has no intention of imposing charges on Russia as a deterrent.

A senior State Department official said there is nothing that would change that approach.

“I don’t think there is any desire to impose sanctions or consequences ahead of Russian action on the ground. I don’t think that would be a productive way,” the official told CNN. “I think we’ll retain influence if we reserve the right to impose those consequences in the wake of an escalation.”

The head of the US delegation, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, told reporters after the talks at NATO that the Russians themselves may not yet know what their next step is. During this week’s talks, the US has repeatedly argued that diplomacy can only happen if Russia de-escalates. is.”

After Wednesday’s meeting at NATO, Sherman said Russia had not committed to any de-escalation.

Top officials of the Biden administration have made it clear they expect the talks to continue for the foreseeable future, without detailing what those talks might look like.

“We expect an additional engagement with the Russian Federation in the coming days. We hope the engagement takes place, we hope this diplomatic track continues, but more importantly, we hope it bears fruit,” said ministry spokesman Ned Price. of Foreign Affairs. Wednesday.

Russia calls US demands ‘unacceptable’

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov replied on Thursday that US demands were “unacceptable”.

“I don’t think we need to explain how absolutely unacceptable such demands are, and of course we won’t even discuss them,” Lavrov said.

US officials have expressed hope that discussions on areas of mutual interest between Russia and the US — including nuclear weapons, intermediate-range missiles and transparency over military exercises — can keep diplomatic talks going. NATO leaders noted that Wednesday marked the first time in two years that Russia had agreed to meet with the alliance and that they passed the four-hour meeting, which was longer than planned.

Tensions are high on Ukraine's border with Russia.  This is what you need to know

“I think the reality is that I will say that the Russian delegation attended a meeting for almost four hours where 30 countries spoke, and they did, which is not an easy thing to do,” she said on Wednesday.

But if that gave the impression that Russia might be open to compromise positions, Russia quickly poured cold water on it.

“The US and its NATO allies are not ready to meet Russia halfway on key issues,” Ryabkov said on Thursday, according to state news agency TASS. “The biggest problem is that the United States and its NATO allies, under no circumstances, for whatever reason, are not ready to meet our key demands.”

Blinken had warned ahead of the talks that no breakthroughs were expected this week “in an atmosphere of gun-to-the-head escalation”.

While Russia and NATO seemed to be talking past each other, the language they used illustrated how far apart they were. Russia had proposed a specific language for the treaty in the weeks leading up to the meetings, calling them “negotiations,” while Sherman replied that no formal terms were put forward in what she described as “discussions.”

Sherman said earlier in the week she did not know whether the Russians had come to the table in good faith for the three days of talks, or as a pretext in an effort to justify future military action.

“However, if Russia walks away, it will be clear that they were never serious in pursuing diplomacy,” she said. “That’s why we prepare together for any eventuality.”

Anna Chernova, Zahra Ullah, Mick Krever, Barbara Starr and Sam Fossum of CNN contributed to this report.

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