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21 Jan, 2022 09:59

Lavrov & Blinken meet for crunch Russia-US talks in Geneva

Washington’s top diplomat has played down the chances of making a breakthrough
Lavrov & Blinken meet for crunch Russia-US talks in Geneva

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his American counterpart, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, are sitting down to discuss Moscow’s security proposals and determine whether a deal can be done to de-escalate tensions with NATO.

The two top diplomats are holding talks in the Swiss city of Geneva, with the pair expected to publicly announce the results of their discussions later on the same day. The head-to-head is the latest in a series of diplomatic meetings held after Russia unveiled two draft treaties, one addressed to Washington and the other to NATO, that it says would reduce the risk of conflict on the European continent.

Among the proposals is a demand that the US-led military bloc issue written guarantees that it will not expand further toward Russia’s borders, effectively blocking Ukraine from future membership. In addition, Moscow insists that NATO should refrain from military activity on the territory of the former Warsaw Pact states that joined after 1997, after the fall of the Soviet Union.

However, speaking ahead of the Friday meeting, Blinken cautioned that the chances of coming to an agreement were still unlikely. “I do not expect any breakthrough,” he said, arguing that the meeting would be a chance to “see what conclusions Russia has drawn from these diplomatic contacts.”

According to Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, the agenda will include “substantive discussion of the two draft foundational documents,” as well as the results of recent talks with the US, NATO, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Earlier this month, Lavrov’s deputy, Sergey Ryabkov, said that the West had effectively rejected Russia’s proposals, adding, “I see no reason to sit down in the coming days to get together and carry on with these same discussions.”

NATO’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, has criticized Moscow’s requests, saying that the country has no veto on Ukraine’s efforts to join the bloc, and that it will not accept a “two-tier” membership system that prevents it from deploying troops in certain states.

Russia insists the measures are necessary to avoid conflict, with President Vladimir Putin saying that the West “cheated” Russia by giving assurances in the 1990s that the bloc would not expand into the space left by the fall of the Soviet Union. Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, and the Baltic states were subsequently admitted.