GENEVA — The top U.S. and Russian diplomats reported no breakthroughs on Friday from a meeting to defuse the crisis in Ukraine, where some 100,000 Russian troops are positioned near the border in a standoff that Europe fears could erupt into war.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov agreed after their hour and a half meeting to keep the channels of diplomacy open, though they reported no apparent progress in resolving the conflict. The United States and its European allies have been rallying to project a coordinated front in hopes of deterring a feared Russian invasion of the former Soviet republic.
“This is a critical moment,” Blinken said. “We didn’t expect any major breakthroughs to happen today. But I believe we are now on a clearer path to understanding each other’s positions.”
The United States will provide written responses to Russia’s demands next week, he said. Another meeting with Lavrov could follow shortly after that. Lavrov also said he came to Geneva expecting no more than some “concrete answers to our concrete proposals.”
In my meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov today, I stressed that Russia has two choices: Diplomacy and de-escalation or massive costs to Russia. Our strong preference is to pursue the path of diplomacy. pic.twitter.com/k7RT5qLzXJ
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) January 21, 2022
A crisis on the brink
Russian President Vladimir Putin has demanded — and U.S. President Joe Biden has all but rejected — that the United States and NATO should agree to withdraw troops from former Soviet bloc countries in Eastern Europe and to never allow Ukraine to join the military alliance.
“I can’t say whether we are on the right track or not,” Lavrov said. “We will understand that when we receive the U.S. written response to all of our proposals.”
Blinken said he came to Switzerland to meet Lavrov so they could discuss some “concrete ideas” because the U.S. and its allies favor diplomacy to defuse the crisis, but cautioned there would be “a united, swift and severe response” if diplomacy “proves impossible and Russia decides to pursue aggression against Ukraine.”
Earlier this week, Blinken met with Ukraine’s president and top diplomats from Britain, France and Germany, while the United States imposed new sanctions on four Ukrainian officials accused of being part of a Russian effort to undermine Ukraine’s independence.
Biden said Russia would “pay a heavy price” if there were any Russian troop movements across Ukraine’s border. “Any assembled Russian units move across the Ukrainian border, that is an invasion,” he said. Russia denies it is planning an invasion, and says it only wants security guarantees.
Western allies have been providing weapons and other equipment to Ukraine, as Russia positions 100,000 troops around the country and holds training exercises next door in Belarus.