Live Updates: Russia Plays Down Threat to Ukraine After Meetings with U.S.

After nearly eight hours of intense talks, the U.S. pushed back on demands it said were “non-starters,” while Russia said there was no reason to fear an escalation of tensions with Ukraine.,

ImageU.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and her Russian counterpart, Sergei A. Ryabkov, at the United States Mission in Geneva on Monday.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and her Russian counterpart, Sergei A. Ryabkov, at the United States Mission in Geneva on Monday.Credit…Denis Balibouse/Reuters

GENEVA –With Russian troops massing along Ukraine’s borders,American and Russian diplomats made clear after an intense round of negotiations on Monday that while the two sides would keep talking, they remain far from agreement on meeting each other’s security concerns.

Russian officials said they told their American counterparts they had no plans to invade Ukraine, in a series of talks that lasted nearly eight hours. “There is no reason to fear some kind of escalatory scenario,” Sergei A. Ryabkov, a Russian deputy foreign minister, told reporters after the meeting.

“The talks were difficult, long, very professional, deep, concrete, without attempts to gloss over some sharp edges,” Mr. Ryabkov said. “We had the feeling that the American side took the Russian proposals very seriously and studied them deeply.”

Wendy Sherman, the lead American diplomat, said the United States was “pushing back on security proposals that are simply non-starters for the United States,” including Russia’s demands that Ukraine not be admitted into NATO, and that the alliance end its security cooperation with Ukraine.

“We will not allow anyone to slam closed NATO’s open door policy, which has always been central to the NATO alliance,” Ms. Sherman said on a conference call with reporters. “We will not forgo bilateral cooperation with sovereign states that wish to work with the United States. And we will not make decisions about Ukraine without Ukraine, about Europe without Europe, or about NATO without NATO.”

Both sides tamped down any expectations for a diplomatic breakthrough.

“Today was a discussion, a better understanding of each other and each other’s priorities,” Ms. Sherman said. “It was not what we would call a negotiation.”

The tone of the talks “makes one more optimistic,” Mr. Ryabkov said, “but the main questions are still up in the air, and we don’t see an understanding from the American side of the necessity of a decision in a way that satisfies us.”

Ms. Sherman said the two sides discussed the possibility of reviving the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which the United States abandoned in 2019, after years of accusing Russia of violating its terms.

The American side raised ideas about where U.S. and Russian intermediate-range missiles are located, she said, and the United States made clear that it is open to discussing “ways we can set reciprocal limits on the size and scope of military exercises and to improve transparency about those exercises.”

The talks — the first in a series of discussions that will take place across Europe this week — revolved around the demands for “security guarantees” from Western powers that the Kremlin made in a remarkable diplomatic offensive late last year.

In December, Russia published a proposal for two agreements with the United States and NATO that would roll back Western military activity in Ukraine and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, in essence re-establishing a sphere of Russian influence in what used to be parts of the Soviet Union.

Many of the proposals, as Ms. Sherman noted, are nonstarters for Western officials, who insist that Cold War-style regions of influence are a relic of the past and that countries should be able to choose their own alliances.

“We did not go there and go through the treaty they put on the table,” Ms. Sherman said.

Russia insists that its demands go well beyond arms control, and involve a wholesale redrawing of the security map in Europe, which the Kremlin claims the West forced upon a weak Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

If Russia does not get what it wants, President Vladimir V. Putin said last month, the Kremlin is prepared to resort to military means to achieve its aims.

The Russian convoy arriving at the U.S. mission in Geneva, on Monday.Credit…Fabrice Coffrini/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

GENEVA — Just after sunrise on a bright, brisk Alpine morning, the talks on war and peace began.

The American and Russian delegations, including diplomats and military officials from both countries, gathered at the American Mission just up the street from the grand Geneva offices of the United Nations. Outside the compound, Russian, Ukrainian and American reporters awaited glimpses of the negotiators arriving in a small armada of luxury vehicles, while local parents and children squeezed by on the narrow sidewalk, on their way to the nearby International School.

“The U.S. will listen to Russia’s concerns and share our own,” read a message posted on the Twitter account of Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, the lead American negotiator, as the meeting began, “but we have been clear we will not discuss European security without our Allies and partners.”

It was America’s turn to host the Geneva talks in the protocol of great-power diplomacy between the United States and Russia that increasingly resembles the high-stakes negotiations of the Cold War.

Ms. Sherman and Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei A. Ryabkov of Russia previously met in Geneva to discuss arms control last July and September, alternating between Russian and American ground. President Biden sat down with President Vladimir V. Putin at a villa on the other side of Lake Geneva last June, pledging to seek a “stable and predictable” relationship.

After meeting for over three hours, Mr. Biden and Mr. Putin committed to the creation of working groups to deal with urgent issues, starting with arms control and the proliferation of cyberattacks. Despite stark differences, the summit held the possibility of ushering in a long-awaited thaw in Russian-American relations.

Tensions were much higher before the meeting on Monday. American officials said over the weekend that they could not be sure whether their Russian counterparts were serious about conducting real negotiations, or whether they were simply using the talks to sow discord in the West and justify military action against Ukraine.

“We fully expect that the Russian side will make public comments following the meeting on Monday that will not reflect the true nature of the discussions that took place,” a senior State Department official warned in a press briefing ahead of the talks. “We would urge our allies and partners to view those comments with extreme skepticism.”

The talks began in an informal, low-key fashion Sunday evening, when Mr. Ryabkov and Ms. Sherman met for dinner in a residential building on Lake Geneva’s ritzy waterfront. Mr. Ryabkov was seen re-emerging about two hours later, while the deputy secretary of state managed to evade the press.

Mr. Ryabkov kept up the Kremlin’s recent rhetoric of vague but ominous threats, rejecting the notion that Russia was prepared to make any concessions.

“It’s time for the other side to show flexibility,” Mr. Ryabkov said in an interview published by Russia’s RIA Novosti state news agency before the talks began on Monday. “If they’re not capable of doing that, then they will collide with a worsening situation in the sphere of their own security.”

10,000

UKRAINE

Troops

Artillery

Armored vehicles

Other military or air installations

Luhansk

Motorized infantry unit

Approximate line

separating Ukrainian and

Russian-backed forces.

Military analysts say Russian troops

deployed to Ukraine’s east could

be used to seize additional territory

from Ukrainian control, beyond

what has already been taken by

Russian-backed separatists.

32,000 troops

in Eastern Ukraine

Donetsk

Motorized infantry unit

RUSSIA

Persianovskiy

Two tank units

Motorized infantry unit

Rostov-on-Don

Motorized infantry unit

Artillery unit

Southern Military District

Army Corps

SEA OF Azov

10,000

UKRAINE

Troops

Artillery

Armored vehicles

Other military or air installations

Approximate line

separating Ukrainian and

Russian-backed forces.

Luhansk

Motorized infantry unit

Military analysts say Russian troops

deployed to Ukraine’s east could

be used to seize additional territory

from Ukrainian control, beyond

what has already been taken by

Russian-backed separatists.

32,000 troops

in Eastern Ukraine

Donetsk

Motorized infantry unit

RUSSIA

Persianovskiy

Two tank units

Motorized infantry unit

Rostov-on-Don

Motorized infantry unit

Artillery unit

Southern Military District

Army Corps

SEA OF Azov

10,000

Troops

Artillery

Armored vehicles

UKRAINE

Other installations

Approximate line

separating Ukrainian and

Russian-backed forces.

Military analysts say Russian

troops deployed to Ukraine’s

east could be used to seize

additional territory from

Ukrainian control, beyond what

has already been taken by

Russian-backed separatists.

Luhansk

32,000 troops

in Eastern Ukraine

Donetsk

Persianovskiy

Rostov-on-Don

RUSSIA

SEA OF Azov

10,000

Troops

Artillery

Armored vehicles

UKRAINE

Other installations

Approximate line

separating Ukrainian and

Russian-backed forces.

RUSSIA

Luhansk

32,000 troops

in Eastern Ukraine

Donetsk

Persianovskiy

Rostov-on-Don

A buildup of Russian forces near the border with Ukraine has raised concerns among Western and Ukrainian officials that the Kremlin might be preparing for significant military action, possibly an invasion. This map, compiled by The New York Times, shows troops, tanks and heavy artillery moving into positions that threaten to widen the conflict in Ukraine’s east as well as potentially open a new front on Ukraine’s northern border, closer to the capital, Kyiv.

Russia currently has about 100,000 troops on the Ukraine border, according to Ukrainian and Western officials. U.S. intelligence agencies have assessed that the Kremlin has drawn up plans for a military operation involving up to 175,000 troops that could begin in the coming weeks. While it is not clear whether President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has decided to launch an attack, analysts say the country is well on its way toward constructing the architecture needed for a significant military intervention in Ukraine.

The maps represent a snapshot of current Russian positions, as well as broad estimates of the number of troops and kinds of equipment deployed within striking distance of Ukraine. It is based on information obtained by Ukrainian and Western officials as well as independent military analysts and satellite imagery.

A protest against President Vladimir V. Putin’s policies, in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Sunday.Credit…Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters

KYIV, Ukraine — After massing troops near Ukraine’s borders, Russia is striving to win security concessions from Western countries in negotiations this week. But Moscow has already lost ground in one important area: public opinion in Ukraine.

In opinion polls taken after the Russian military buildup began, more Ukrainians said they wanted to join NATO than before. An International Republican Institute survey from mid-November, for example, showed 54 percent of Ukrainians saying they would vote to join the alliance if a referendum were held, an increase from 48 percent in March.

Since 2014, the start of a conflict that has killed more than 13,000 Ukrainians on both sides, public opinion in the former Soviet republic has turned against Russia. In part, this is because people in western and central Ukraine disapprove of the violence.

And areas with pro-Russian leanings — the Crimean Peninsula and the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the south and east — are no longer measured in opinion surveys. Russia has annexed Crimea and supported separatist uprisings in Donetsk and Luhansk, meaning that votes from these areas, which had a combined prewar population of about 6 million, no longer contribute to a more balanced central government foreign policy on Russia.

Ukrainian views of Russia were not always so negative. In 2013, the year before the war started, 85 percent of Ukrainians held a favorable attitude toward its giant neighbor. By early 2021, that figure had fallen to 41 percent.

To be sure, Ukraine, perched between Russia and the West, remains divided on questions of geopolitical leanings, and polls have fluctuated over the years.

In 1991, for example, more than 92 percent of Ukrainians voted for independence. Twenty years later, only about half of people surveyed said they would support independence if the referendum were held again. Last year, as Russia stepped up its hostile rhetoric, that number was back up to 80 percent.

President Biden speaking with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine in December.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

The American president had issued a stern warning to Russia’s leader, Vladimir V. Putin: Keep your troops out of Ukraine, or face harsh economic reprisals.

The warning went unheeded. Two weeks after that call, from President Barack Obama, Russian special forces moved into Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and, after a dubious local referendum, Mr. Putin claimed it as Russian territory.

That was March 2014. Nearly eight years later, as U.S. and Russian officials meet for security talks in Geneva, President Biden hopes to have more influence over Mr. Putin. Mr. Biden has made an explicit threat to take more punishing economic action than Mr. Obama did after the annexation of Crimea, and Mr. Putin’s subsequent instigation of a bloody separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

There is no guarantee that Mr. Putin will listen any more carefully this time, particularly given that Mr. Biden has ruled out direct U.S. military action. And the stakes are even higher: Another failure to deter Mr. Putin, Biden officials and their critics agree, would deal a severe blow to an international system of rules and borders that the administration has worked hard to reaffirm in the wake of President Donald J. Trump’s “America First” foreign policy, which raised questions about how far the United States would go to defend its allies and enforce its vision of international rules.

Compounding the challenge for Mr. Biden is the possibility that Mr. Putin may perceive American weakness after Mr. Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, which critics say signaled waning U.S. resolve overseas.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine announced a separate Ukrainian diplomatic initiative with Russia in late December.Credit…John Thys/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

KYIV, Ukraine — As the high-stakes diplomatic negotiations between the United States and Russia over the fate of Ukraine got underway on Monday in Geneva, one player was notably absent: Ukraine.

In fact, Ukraine will be missing from two of the three negotiating sessions scheduled for this week.

The absence of any concrete role for Ukraine in the talks has clearly unnerved the government in Kyiv. Fearing that the talks will yield little or nothing, and with President Biden’s statement that the U.S. would not intervene militarily if Russia invades, Ukraine has quietly pursued its own negotiating track with Moscow.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has decided not to rely wholly on the U.S.-led negotiations, announcing a separate, Ukrainian diplomatic initiative with Russia in late December, the specifics of which were later published in a Russian newspaper.

The 10-point Ukrainian plan begins with three confidence-building steps — a cease-fire in the war in eastern Ukraine, an exchange of prisoners and the opening of crossing points for civilians on the front line in the eastern Ukraine war — then moves to political issues. The first point, the cease-fire, has already been implemented, though it has also already broken down.

To date, none of the diplomatic talks with Russia, whether with the United States or Ukraine, have slowed the stream of ominous statements from Russian officials that diplomats and analysts worry could be used to justify military action or prepare the Russian population for a war.

Members of the Ukrainian military’s 25th Airborne Brigade patrolling an area on the outskirts of Avdiivka, in DecemberCredit…Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

For years, the conflict in Ukraine has been a slow, bloody grind that set in after Ukraine and Russia fought to a stalemate over territory seized by Russian-backed forces in 2014.

Fighters have been dug into an ant farm of muddy trenches along the so-called line of contact, a roughly 250-mile-long barricade of fortifications in the in the provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, in eastern Ukraine. On one side are Ukrainian military forces; on the other are Russian-backed separatists.

On the Ground in Eastern Ukraine

Michael Schwirtz

Michael Schwirtz?Reporting from the front

On the Ground in Eastern Ukraine

Michael Schwirtz

Michael Schwirtz?Reporting from the front

Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

With the threat of Russian invasion looming, I traveled last week to the front lines of Ukraine’s war with Kremlin-backed separatists.

That’s where I met First Lt. Ivan Skuratovsky, a stoic 30-year-old ->

Dec. 10, 2021

Item 1 of 7

A 2015 cease-fire between the Ukrainian government and the Russian-backed forces brought an end to the most serious hostilities in a conflict that has cost more than 13,000 lives. But it did not bring peace. In December, when a Times reporter visited, the line of contact regularly crackled with gunfire punctuated with the occasional boom of artillery. A handful of Ukrainian soldiers is killed each month, mostly by sniper fire.

One night in December, members of Ukraine’s 25th Airborne Brigade under the command of Capt. Denis Branitskii returned fire only once. “Just to let them know we’re here,” Captain Branitskii said. The thwomp of a Ukrainian soldier’s grenade launcher silenced the machine gun fire on the other side, but only briefly.

In Moscow earlier this month. Fear of a third world war is the second most common worry held by Russians, according to a recent poll.Credit…Yuri Kochetkov/EPA, via Shutterstock

MOSCOW — While tensions in Ukraine have gripped the West in recent weeks, in Russia the dramatic events in Kazakhstan and a 10-day New Year’s holiday have overshadowed preparations for the latest round of diplomatic talks that kicked off on Monday in Geneva.

State-owned Russia-24 television broadcast a 17-minute long spot on Sunday evening, emphasizing to viewers that Russia “threatens no one.”

Remarkably absent from theprogram: any mention of Russia’s buildup of more than 100,000 troops on its western border with Ukraine — or much discussion of its neighbor at all.

The presenter made an argument often repeated in Russia, that NATO supposedly broke its promise not to expand eastward in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“NATO will no longer be able to push Russia back into secondary roles,” the deputy foreign minister, Sergei A. Ryabkov, was quoted as saying, adding: “It is time for the alliance to return to the borders of 1997.”

The predominant Russian narrative is disputed by statesmen including former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, who negotiated NATO’s presence following Germany’s unification with former Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

While Mr. Putin has overseen the steady militarization of Russian society, in part by glorifying the Soviet Union’s victory in the Second World War, ordinary Russians are worried about the outbreak of a global conflict.

Fear of a third world war is the second most common worry held by Russians, according to a recent poll by the independent Levada Center. More than 60 percent of respondents said they were “afraid” or “rather afraid” that such a conflict could break out.

Separate research by the same pollster indicates that any potential military gains would not make Mr. Putin more popular: only 32 percent of Russians wanted to see their country as “a great power respected and feared by other countries,” and just 16 percent thought war could bolster Mr. Putin’s authority.

Alina Lobzina contributed reporting.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia at the presidential residence in Strelna, outside St. Petersburg, in December.Credit…Alexey Nikolsky/Agence France-Presse, via Ria Novosti/Afp Via Getty Images

In speeches, interviews and lengthy articles, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and his close associates have telegraphed a singular fixation on Ukraine. The Kremlin thesis goes that Ukrainians are “one people” with Russians, living in a failing state controlled by Western forces determined to divide and conquer the post-Soviet world.

Ukrainians, who ousted a Russia-friendly president in 2014 and are increasingly in favor of binding their country to Western institutions, would largely beg to differ. But Mr. Putin’s conviction finds a receptive ear among many Russians, who see themselves as linked intimately with Ukraine by generations of linguistic, cultural, economic, political and family ties.

Russians often view Kyiv, now the Ukrainian capital and once the center of the medieval Kyivan Rus, as the birthplace of their nation. Well-known Russian-language writers, such as Nikolai Gogol and Mikhail Bulgakov, came from Ukraine, as did the Communist revolutionary Leon Trotsky and the Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.

Ukrainian is Ukraine’s official language, but Russian — which is closely related — is still widely spoken. Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, now speaks Ukrainian in public but first gained fame as a Russian-language comedian who performed across the former Soviet Union.

To Mr. Putin — and many other Russians — the conflict with Ukraine is about a hurt national psyche, a historical injustice to be set right. One of his former advisers, Gleb O. Pavlovsky, in an interview described the Kremlin’s view of Ukraine as a “trauma wrapped in a trauma” — the dissolution of the Soviet Union coupled with the separation of a nation Russians long viewed as simply an extension of their own.

Demonstrations at the city hall in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Wednesday, a day before a Russian-led military alliance sent in troops.Credit…Yan Blagov/Associated Press

Long adept at stoking unrest in the West, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia sent troops to the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan last week to try to extinguish the latest in a series of dangerous fires to engulf the lands of the former Soviet Union, territory that Moscow views as its own sphere of influence but has struggled to keep calm.

But if the turmoil in Kazakhstan has once again exposed the vulnerability of the strongman leaders the Kremlin has trusted to keep order, it has also presented Russia with yet another opportunity to reassert its influence in its former Soviet domain, one of Mr. Putin’s most cherished long-term goals.

The arrival in Kazakhstan of more than 2,000 troops from a Russian-led military alliance was the fourth time in just two years that Moscow has flexed its muscle in neighboring states — Belarus, Armenia and Ukraine being the other three — that the West has long tried to woo. Dozens of protesters and some security forces in Kazakhstan were reportedly killed, and government officials said on Sunday that more than 2,000 people were injured and at least 5,800 detained in several days of violence.

On Monday, Mr. Putin said that the unrest in Kazakhstan had been caused by “destructive internal and external forces,” and that the troops his country had sent as “peacekeepers” would only be withdrawn once their mission was complete.

The spectacle of a country like Kazakhstan “that seems big and strong” falling into disarray so quickly has come as a shock, said Maxim Suchkov, acting director of the Institute for International Studies at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. But it has also shown how, with the exception of Ukraine, in the former Soviet republics that have tried to balance between East and West, “boom, you get a crisis and they turn to Russia.”

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