Russia ruled out any “concessions” on Sunday before talks with the United States began in Geneva in an attempt to defuse the explosive crisis that is playing out around Ukraine and, beyond that, to try to reconcile visions apparently irreconcilable on security in Europe.
“We will not accept any concessions. This is completely excluded,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Riabkov, who is due to take part in the negotiations, told Russian news agencies.
“We are disappointed with the signals coming in recent days from Washington, but also from Brussels,” he added.
It is through a face-to-face meeting between the Deputy Foreign Ministers of the two rival powers, the American Wendy Sherman and the Russian Sergei Riabkov, that this high-risk diplomatic week begins.
It will continue with a NATO-Russia meeting Wednesday in Brussels then a meeting Thursday in Vienna of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), to include Europeans who fear being marginalized.
A senior White House official said the Russians and Americans “would likely have a first conversation on Sunday evening,” before holding their “main meeting on Monday” in Switzerland.
The West and Kiev accuse the Russians of having massed nearly 100,000 troops on the Ukrainian border in preparation for a potential invasion, and have threatened Russian President Vladimir Putin with “massive” and unprecedented sanctions if he attacks the country again. neighboring country.
Measures that could go as far as cutting Russia off from the cogs of global finance or preventing the entry into service of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline dear to the Kremlin.
The objective: to show that they are more determined this time than in 2014, when Moscow annexed Ukrainian Crimea without the American-European alliance being able to reverse it.
– “Unacceptable” requirements –
President Putin, who has met twice with his American counterpart Joe Biden since the start of this new crisis, warned that new sanctions would be a “colossal mistake”, and in turn threatened with a response ” military and technical “in case” of maintaining the very clearly aggressive line “of its rivals.
Above all, he imposed and obtained to extend the dialogue to several of his demands which are nevertheless seen as so many red lines by the West.
Because the Kremlin affirms that it is the West which provokes Russia by stationing the soldiers at its gates or by arming the Ukrainian soldiers who fight pro-Russian separatists in Donbass, in the east of Ukraine.
He therefore calls for a major treaty excluding Ukraine’s entry into NATO and the withdrawal of American soldiers from the most eastern countries of the Atlantic Alliance.
However, not only do the Americans claim that they are not ready to reduce their troops in Poland or the Baltic countries, but on the contrary they threaten to reinforce them if the Russians go on the offensive.
“The risk of a new conflict is real,” warned NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Friday, noting that Moscow was putting forward “unacceptable” demands while increasing threats if they “are not accepted”.
“It is certainly part of their strategy to present a list of absolutely inadmissible demands and then claim that the other side is not playing the game and use that as a justification for an aggression”, added the head of the American diplomacy Antony. Blinken.
But he assured that the United States would not let itself be “distracted” by the “debate on NATO” demanded by Vladimir Poutine, because “the hot topic” is “his aggression against Ukraine”.
– Europe wants to participate –
While believing that it would be “very difficult to make real progress” with “a gun to the head of Ukraine”, the US Secretary of State extended his hand to Russia, assuring that a “diplomatic solution “was” still possible “if she wanted to.
For John Herbst, former American ambassador to Ukraine, the Russian military deployment is a “gigantic bluff” from Vladimir Poutine to win concessions.
“As long as the Biden administration remains at least as steadfast as it is now,” said this think tank expert at the Atlantic Council, “that should be enough to stop Putin from invading Ukraine, but I’m not ruling out an operation. more limited “.
Beyond the Ukrainian crisis, Washington hopes to take advantage of the talks to put US-Russian relations back on track, to their lowest point since the end of the Cold War. And maybe get some progress on other issues, like disarmament.
But from Paris to Berlin via Brussels, calls have multiplied to make a real place at the negotiating table for the countries of the Old Continent, and in particular the European Union – facing the Kremlin which seems to want to favor the head – Russian-American face to face.
A test for the United States of Joe Biden, which, despite the promises of consultation, scalded their European allies by giving the impression of going it alone on Afghanistan or the anti-China strategy.
“There will be nothing in Europe without Europe,” promised Antony Blinken.