US and Russian officials made a pessimistic note about the talks that followed Thursday’s meeting in Vienna at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). It was the third session that capped a week of intense meetings that the United States and its NATO allies had hoped would spur Russia to pursue a path of “de-escalation and diplomacy” rather than mustering the tens of thousands of Russian troops that bloated its presence. along the borders of Ukraine.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the talks had reached a “stalemate or difference of methods” because the United States and NATO would not address Moscow’s demands that Ukraine not join NATO, according to Russian state media TASS. Ryabkov said he saw no reason for the two sides to continue the talks, although the United States had suggested they would continue beyond this week.
After Thursday’s session, US Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Michael Carpenter told reporters that “the drums of war are beating loudly and the rhetoric has become rather sharp.”
“We have to take this very seriously,” Carpenter said of the buildup of Russian forces along the border with Ukraine. We have to prepare for the possibility of an escalation.”
Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau, head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, warned after Thursday’s meeting that “the risk of war in the OSCE region is greater now than at any time in the past 30 years.”
This week’s diplomatic efforts – which included separate sessions between Russia, the US, NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe – were aimed at pulling Russia out of a possible invasion of Ukraine. But Russia has not committed to withdrawing more than 100,000 troops now along the border, and the Russian military conducted live-fire exercises along the border this week as talks continue.
“The jury is out of the way for Vladimir Putin to choose”
US officials made clear before the talks began that they did not know whether Russia was serious about diplomacy or was only planning to use the sessions as an excuse to take military action.
“The jury is out of the way that Vladimir Putin will choose,” Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Thursday in an interview with MSNBC. Will he choose the path of diplomacy and dialogue to solve some of these problems, or will he continue confrontation and aggression?
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters at the White House on Thursday that the United States and its allies remained ready for any outcome after this week’s talks.
“The discussions were candid and direct. They were helpful. They gave us and our allies things to consider; they gave Russia things to consider,” Sullivan said. “We will now consider and consult with allies and partners on how to proceed,” Sullivan told reporters at the White House.
Sullivan said the Biden administration plans to soon share information about Russian disinformation that could lay the groundwork for an invasion of Ukraine. “Our intelligence community has developed information, now downgraded, that Russia is laying the groundwork for the option to fabricate the pretext of invasion,” Sullivan said.
In the past few days, Russia has continued to “increase capacity” near the border, a senior US official said. The official said it was not a “significant” number of troops or equipment, but an indication that the Kremlin is not stopping the escalation.
Russia’s next step is still unclear
It remains unclear what the United States plans to do if Russia does not de-escalate but does not invade Ukraine either. Over the course of the week, US officials said Russia would face consequences that they did not see if the invasion would take place. But the Biden administration does not plan to impose any costs on Russia as a deterrent.
A senior State Department official said there was nothing that would change this approach.
“I don’t think there is any desire for sanctions or consequences before Russian action on the ground,” the official told CNN. “I don’t think that would be a productive way forward.” “I think we retain leverage if we reserve the right to impose those consequences in the wake of the escalation.”
The head of the US delegation, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, told reporters after the talks at NATO that the Russians themselves might not yet know what the next step was. During this week’s talks, the US has repeatedly argued that diplomacy can’t happen unless Russia de-escalates, which Sherman said Monday the US has defined as Russia returning its forces to barracks or telling the US “that exercises are underway and what their purpose is.” . is being.”
After Wednesday’s meeting at NATO, Sherman said Russia had not committed to any de-escalation.
Senior Biden administration officials have made it clear that they expect the talks to continue in the near future, without providing details of what those talks might look like.
“We anticipate additional engagement with the Russian Federation in the coming days. We hope that engagement will take place, and we hope that this diplomatic path continues, but most importantly, we hope it pays off,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said. Wednesday.
Russia says US demands ‘unacceptable’
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov responded on Thursday that the US demands were “unacceptable”.
“I don’t think we need to explain how unacceptable such demands are at all, and of course we won’t even discuss them,” Lavrov said.
US officials have expressed hope that discussions on areas of common interest between Russia and the United States — including nuclear weapons, medium-range missiles, and transparency about military exercises — can continue in diplomatic talks. NATO leaders noted that Wednesday was the first time Russia had agreed to a meeting with the alliance in two years, and they sat during the four-hour meeting, which was longer than planned.
“I think the truth is, I’m going to say that the Russian delegation sat for nearly four hours of the meeting where 30 countries spoke, and they did, which is not an easy thing,” she said on Wednesday.
But if that gave the impression that Russia might have been open to conceding positions, Russia quickly poured cold water on it.
“The United States and its NATO allies are not ready to meet Russia halfway on major issues,” the official TASS news agency quoted Ryabkov as saying on Thursday. “The main problem is that the United States and its NATO allies, under the guise of, for whatever reason are not prepared to meet our main demands.”
Blinken had warned before the talks not to expect a breakthrough this week “in an atmosphere of escalation with a gun pointed at Ukraine’s head.”
When Russia and NATO seemed to talk about each other, the language they used shows how far apart they are. Russia proposed specific treaty language in the weeks leading up to the meetings, describing them as “negotiations,” while Sherman responded that no formal terms were put forward in what it called “discussions.”
Sherman said earlier in the week that she did not know whether the Russians had sat at the table for three days in good faith, or as an excuse in an attempt to justify future military action.
“If Russia withdraws, it will be quite clear that they were never serious about pursuing diplomacy at all,” she said. “This is why we are collectively preparing for every eventuality.”
Anna Chernova, Zahratullah, Mick Kriever, Barbara Starr, and Sam Fossum of CNN contributed to this report.