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With Russian guns pointed at Ukraine, West and Moscow dive into talks – POLITICO

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GENEVA — U.S., European, and NATO officers are adamant the extreme week of diplomatic conferences with Russia is a dialogue, not a negotiation.

However with upwards of 100,000 Russian troopers fairly actually pointing guns at Ukraine, with tanks and different heavy weaponry massed on the border, and President Vladimir Putin brazenly threatening navy motion if his calls for for safety ensures aren’t met, this week’s talks have all of the markings of a hostage standoff.

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Forward of the talks, which formally begin Monday morning in Geneva earlier than shifting to Brussels and Vienna, Western officers harassed throughout a flurry of background briefings, information conferences and different preparatory public pronouncements that Moscow should even be keen to listen to and deal with their complaints. These embody Russia’s earlier navy incursions in Ukraine and in Georgia, in addition to interference in elections (a degree of anger among the many People) and use of chemical weapons (a particular precedence for the British after the 2018 assassination try of a former spy in Salisbury, England).

All through all of this, nevertheless, Western officers have been unable to elucidate why — if these conferences are a dialog and not a life-or-death bargaining session — they didn’t insist Putin first pull his troops and armor again to garrison earlier than granting the Kremlin a sequence of high-profile platforms on which to air its grievances.

Diplomats, officers and analysts who observe Russia carefully say it’s unimaginable to disclaim the plain: The West has allowed Putin to set the desk for the conferences this week, and that with out his menacing navy build-up, none of those talks can be taking place.

“Typically when somebody takes a hostage, you need to negotiate,” stated Samuel Charap, a senior political scientist at the RAND Company, who follows Russia and Ukraine, together with safety and arms management points.

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The issue — and, for Ukraine, the grave hazard — is that if the talks this week are, in actual fact, a brokering session, there are way more factors seen as non-negotiable than there are areas of potential compromise, leaving little touchdown zone for a deal.

What’s on the desk — and what’s not

Putin won’t talk about his invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014, which the West nonetheless views as a violation of worldwide legislation that have to be reversed. Putin additionally has by no means admitted, and received’t concede now, that active-duty Russian navy personnel are working within the Donbass area of jap Ukraine, regardless of ample proof on the contrary, together with a latest Russian courtroom ruling that mentioned contracts for supplying meals to Russian forces.

The U.S. and its NATO allies, in the meantime, have already stated they won’t accede to Russia’s calls for that the U.S. take away troops and weapons from Jap European international locations that joined the alliance after 1997. They’ve already rejected a requirement for the removing of all U.S. nuclear weapons stationed in Europe, and additionally flatly dominated out Moscow’s demand for a assure that Ukraine and Georgia won’t ever be part of NATO.

In latest days, U.S. officers have recognized simply two areas through which they see the potential for fruitful discussions: on curbing missile deployments and on scaling again navy workout routines.

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Russia has lengthy complained about current U.S. “Aegis Ashore” missile protection capabilities based mostly in southern Romania and has lately voiced considerations that Washington would search to base missiles in Ukraine.

The U.S. and NATO have beforehand dismissed the considerations in regards to the missile interceptors in Deveselu, Romania, saying they have been put in to guard in opposition to threats from Iran or elsewhere outdoors the Euro-Atlantic space. A second Aegis Ashore set up within the city of Redzikowo, in northern Poland, is almost full and projected to be operational by the top of this yr.

The Poland web site, not removed from the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, is probably going of even higher concern to the Kremlin.

However even because the Russian delegation, led by Deputy International Minister Sergei Ryabkov, arrived in Geneva on Sunday afternoon for the primary casual assembly — a bilateral dialogue with the U.S. — there have been indicators Moscow was unimpressed by the feedback from Washington and not optimistic in regards to the prospect of any deal.

“We aren’t going there with an outstretched hand, we’re going with a clearly formulated job that have to be solved on the phrases that now we have formulated. That’s all,” Ryabkov informed the Russian information company RIA Novosti.

“If we stroll in circles and repeat the identical factor, if we don’t see the slightest indicators of readiness from the opposite aspect to take into account our priorities, to react to them in a constructive manner, then the dialogue will turn out to be pointless,” Ryabkov stated.

In Geneva, the U.S. delegation will probably be led by Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, certainly one of Washington’s most seasoned diplomats and a well-known determine in Moscow. Sherman was the chief negotiator of the Iran nuclear deal underneath former President Barack Obama, and underneath former President Invoice Clinton, she was the coverage coordinator for North Korea and led negotiations with Pyongyang over its nuclear program.

Total, Russia’s latest litany of requests, put ahead final month as a draft “treaty,” would basically rewrite the safety structure of contemporary Europe. And the far-reaching nature of the doc — Kremlin critics would say vastly over-reaching — mirror simply how little Putin has to lose within the present spherical of discussions.

Just about any concession Putin is perhaps granted would quantity to one thing for nothing for the Russian chief, who has been in energy because the finish of 1999, and lately oversaw a rewriting of his nation’s structure to permit him to remain in workplace till 2036.

Such concessions embody even the willingness of Western powers to entertain a few of his extra outlandish claims in latest weeks, reminiscent of the actual fact Ukraine poses a safety menace to Russia, or, as Russian Protection Minister Sergei Shoigu lately claimed, that U.S. mercenaries have been making ready a provocation utilizing chemical weapons in Donbass.

Given the inevitably excessive value to Russia of an invasion of Ukraine — in casualties, which might run to the tens of hundreds, and in financial and political sanctions imposed by the West — there may be some hope in Western capitals that Putin is perhaps keen to again off his threats in favor of negotiations that preserve Russia at the middle of the geopolitical stage.

On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken sought to decrease expectations for this week’s talks, and he acknowledged the extortionary nature of the present state of affairs.

“I don’t assume we’re going to see any breakthroughs within the coming — within the coming week,” Blinken stated Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” present. Blinken reiterated the necessity for two-way discussions and for Russia to listen to the West. “We’re going to hearken to Russia’s considerations,” he stated. “They’re going to should hearken to our considerations.”

However Blinken stated he noticed restricted alternative for main developments, both in Geneva or throughout a gathering of the Russia-NATO Council at alliance headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday. The assembly with allies will probably be adopted by a broader assembly of the Group for Safety and Cooperation in Europe on Thursday, together with Ukraine.

“It’s arduous to see making precise progress, versus speaking, in an environment of escalation with a gun to Ukraine’s head,” Blinken stated. “So, if we’re really going to make progress, we’re going to should see de-escalation, Russia pulling again from the menace that it presently poses to Ukraine.”

Combating for a seat at the desk

Whereas Moscow clearly prefers to talk on to Washington, which it views as pulling puppet strings at NATO, in latest days, Blinken and different U.S. officers have harassed repeatedly that they won’t enable Russia to make use of the bilateral talks in Geneva to make selections that impression European allies or for that matter, Ukraine, which isn’t a NATO member.

Publicly, NATO allies are working to show unshakable unity of their posture towards Russia, as they did on Friday following a videoconference of allied overseas ministers.

“In the present day’s assembly demonstrated as soon as once more NATO’s unity and cohesion,” Secretary-Common Jens Stoltenberg proclaimed at a information convention, including that allies have been additionally united in imposing steep prices on Russia if it assaults Ukraine.

“We have to be ready for that the talks break down and that diplomacy will fail,” he stated. “And that’s precisely why we’re sending a really clear message to Russia that in the event that they as soon as once more resolve to make use of navy pressure in opposition to a neighbor, then there will probably be extreme penalties, a excessive value to pay. Financial sanctions, monetary sanctions, political sanctions.”

Privately, nevertheless, some European officers have voiced rising misgivings in regards to the Biden administration’s strategy towards Moscow. And a few EU officers, together with the overseas coverage chief, Josep Borrell, have loudly demanded that Brussels will need to have a central position in any discussions with critical repercussions for European safety.

Some European diplomats stated Putin’s latest actions had led to a reassessment of U.S. President Joe Biden’s summit with Putin in Geneva in June, and that the assembly was now largely considered a failure — to be counted as yet one more misstep, together with the messy withdrawal from Afghanistan, and a diplomatic spat with France over safety coverage within the Indo-Pacific that prompted Paris to recall its ambassador from Washington for the primary time ever final yr.

“It first and foremost handed a win to Putin from the get-go,” one EU diplomat stated. “The assembly itself signaled irrelevance for Europe and EU member states.”

Noting the disregard for France, mixed with an preliminary intuition by the U.S. to exclude Jap European allies from the discussions about Russia, the diplomat stated: “How sensible is the U.S. as a associate and good friend throughout the Atlantic? By participating with Putin with out making clear the steep value of transgressing the territorial sovereignty of Ukraine, Biden handed Putin the choice of formulating his personal phrases of engagement.”

The diplomat added: “The assembly elevated the sensation in European — and particularly Jap European — international locations as fly-over states whose destiny is set on by Washington and Moscow.”

A second EU diplomat applauded the trouble to keep up a seat for the EU in any negotiations on European safety. “On this one, I’m absolutely with Borrell,” the second diplomat stated. “Now it’s for NATO and OSCE however we, as EU, we have to sit at the desk. Now we have to be related in these talks.”

Different EU diplomats stated there was hope the NATO-Russia assembly can be the primary of a number of periods, resulting in renewed dialogue and forestalling any escalation of navy battle in Ukraine.

“The truth that the Russian Federation needs to vary the safety structure is after all regarding,” a 3rd diplomat stated. “However there are a number of tracks and so we have to begin speaking, speaking and speaking — once more and once more,” the third diplomat stated. “Too early to take a position on the result: the method is paramount for now.”

After Moscow’s Ryabkov and Washington’s Sherman met Sunday night time for a casual dinner, U.S. State Division spokesman Ned Value reiterated that the U.S. wouldn’t negotiate on behalf of European allies of their absence.

“The US will talk about sure bilateral points with Russia,” the State Division stated in an announcement, “however won’t talk about European safety with out our European Allies and companions. The Deputy Secretary underscored that dialogue of sure topics can be reserved for the NATO-Russia Council assembly in Brussels on January 12 and the OSCE Everlasting Council assembly in Vienna on January 13.”

Hitting Russia the place it hurts

If Russia has a gun to Ukraine’s head, the West, in its manner, has sought to level its personal soft-power weaponry again at Moscow — reiterating repeatedly that there will probably be high-impact financial sanctions. These possible included measures supposed to chop Russia’s entry to the worldwide monetary system.

A fourth EU diplomat stated the West would go additional than ever earlier than to focus on not simply rich Russian figures carefully related to Putin, but in addition their households — in an effort to severely restrict journey to Europe, the place Russians typically like to spend holidays and store. Whereas such sanctions is perhaps troublesome to defend in courtroom, the diplomat stated EU officers have been ready to make the method of preventing the levies as prolonged and troublesome as doable.

Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman for the Russian overseas ministry, lashed out at the renewed threats of sanctions forward of the diplomatic conferences. “They’re attempting other ways to interrupt us,” she stated on a preferred TV discuss present. “They’re attempting to interrupt our spirit.”

Given the excessive premium Putin sometimes places on being in direct dialogue with Washington, some diplomats and officers stated the Biden administration missed a possibility by not demanding at least a restricted pull-back of Russian forces earlier than sitting down at the desk with the Kremlin.

Monday’s assembly in Geneva is technically a unprecedented session of the “Strategic Stability Dialogue,” which was an outgrowth of the Biden-Putin summit in June.

A senior U.S. State Division official famous that two periods have been held, on July 28 and September 30, and that the U.S. and Russia had agreed to create two working teams, one on “Ideas and Goals for Future Arms Management” and the opposite on “Capabilities and Actions with Strategic Results.”

However regardless of U.S. requests, Russia refused to carry one other assembly earlier than the top of 2021, the senior official stated, even because the Kremlin massed troops on the border with Ukraine.

Officers from the U.S. and different allied NATO international locations, nevertheless, insisted Putin was not being rewarded with this week’s conferences, regardless that Stoltenberg acknowledged Russia has continued to amass forces on the border.

“The Russian navy build-up continues,” he stated Friday. “With tens of hundreds of fight troops and heavy capabilities in addition to threatening rhetoric and a observe report of utilizing pressure in opposition to neighbors, the chance of battle is actual.”

Jacopo Barigazzi, Lili Bayer and Nahal Toosi contributed reporting.

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