Fri. Aug 19th, 2022

US Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov began their meeting Monday morning in Geneva, Switzerland, after holding a working dinner Sunday night.

The talks follow months of tension near the border between Ukraine and Russia, where tens of thousands of Russian soldiers are gathered.

Vicenational security adviser Jon Finer told CNN’s Jim Sciutto on Monday that he does not “see a situation where the United States goes away” from talks with Russia, even if Kremlin officials take positions during this week’s discussions, which are considered non-starters by the United States.

“Russia issued positions that are not in place and said other things that we think might be some areas where we can work to make progress, and that we will find out later this week,” Finer said.

Russia’s demands, which were made public a few weeks before the negotiations, include that NATO will not expand further east and promise never to admit Ukraine as a new member.

Asked if success requires Russia to withdraw its forces from the border with Ukraine, Finer said he would not “put the crossbar on the negotiating team while negotiations are still ongoing.”

“This is the first opportunity we have had at a high level to explore and better understand what Russia’s position is, what Russia’s intentions are, to better understand where we are coming from,” he said.

Wendy Sherman (L) and Sergey Ryabkov (H) participate in security talks on Monday in Geneva, Switzerland.

The global community will closely follow the discussions that have been described as a late attempt to avert a war on Europe’s eastern flank. On Wednesday, a Russian delegation will meet with members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization of the NATO-Russia Council in Brussels.

But US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has already downplayed the prospects for a breakthrough. “It is difficult to see real progress, as opposed to speaking, in an atmosphere of escalation with a gun to Ukraine’s head. So if we are to actually make progress, we will have to see de-escalation, Russia withdraws from the threat it currently poses to Ukraine, “Blinken said on CNN’s” State of the Union “on Sunday.

Tensions are high at Ukraine's border with Russia.  Here's what you need to know

“We are here because Russia has repeatedly over the last decade committed aggression against neighbors – Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine in 2014, and now the renewed threat to Ukraine today,” he added.

“It is also not about making concessions. It is about seeing if, in the context of dialogue and diplomacy, there are things that both sides, all sides can do to reduce tensions,” Blinken said.

The Sunday dinner between Ryabkov and Sherman was “difficult but businesslike,” Ryabkov told state news agency RIA Novosti. “Initially, it was clear that their line was to deepen our ideas, our proposals and our approaches in the technological environment from a diplomatic point of view that has evolved over the last few decades.”

The State Department’s reading of the dinner said Sherman “emphasized the United States’ commitment to the international principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity and the freedom of sovereign nations to choose their own alliances.”

The West has a rare window to put Putin in his place

Ryabkov said, “there are no surprises for us in the approach that was at least publicly expressed by the US side before the events, we are ready for this. Let’s see what happens in the end.”

As many as 100,000 Russian troops have remained concentrated near the Ukrainian border, despite warnings from US President Joe Biden and European leaders of serious consequences if Putin goes ahead with an invasion. And US intelligence findings last month estimated that Russia could launch a military offensive in Ukraine “as soon as early in 2022.”

Biden told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a phone call earlier this month that the United States and its allies “will respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine.”

CNN’s Mick Krever, Nic Robertson, Jeremy Herb and Natasha Bertrand contributed reporting.

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