Ukraine crisis: US warns ‘drumbeats of war’ are sounding as talks with Russia end with no breakthrough

The effort ended without clear breakthroughs on the tens of thousands of Russian troops amassed at the Ukrainian border, casting doubt on the prospects for future diplomacy and de-escalation, as Russian officials have suggested they may soon withdraw. turn to military options.

US and Russian officials have been pessimistic about the talks following Thursday’s meeting in Vienna at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). This was the third session, which concluded a week of intensive meetings that the United States and its NATO allies hoped could push Russia to continue on the path of “de-escalation and diplomacy” rather than mobilizing. the tens of thousands of Russian soldiers whose presence has increased. along the borders of Ukraine.

But Russian officials reacted with frustration and impatience at the end of the meetings, suggesting they were on the verge of abandoning discussions over the US and NATO’s refusal to respond to major Moscow demands: a guarantee that Ukraine will never be allowed to join NATO and that the alliance will back down its expansion in Eastern Europe. The United States and its NATO allies have repeatedly stated that such proposals from Moscow are unfounded.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov suggested the talks had reached “a dead end or a difference in approach” because the United States and NATO would not respond to demands from Moscow that the Ukraine would never join NATO, he said, according to Russian state media TASS. Ryabkov said he sees no reason for the two sides to continue talks, although the United States has suggested they will continue beyond this week.

After Thursday’s meeting, US Ambassador to the OSCE Michael Carpenter told reporters that “the war drum is ringing loud and the rhetoric has become rather shrill.”

“We have to take this very seriously,” Carpenter said of the gathering of Russian troops along the border with Ukraine. “We need to prepare for the possibility of an escalation.”

Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau, Chairman of the OSCE, warned after Thursday’s meeting that “the risk of war in the OSCE area is now greater than ever in the past 30 years”.

This week’s diplomatic efforts – which included separate sessions between Russia and the United States, NATO and the OSCE – were aimed at pulling Russia out of a possible invasion of Ukraine. But Russia did not pledge to withdraw more than 100,000 troops now along the border, and the Russian military conducted live fire exercises along the border this week as talks continued.

U.S. officials made it clear ahead of the talks that they did not know whether Russia was serious about diplomacy or whether it was simply planning to use the sessions as a pretext for military action. The United States has warned that it has prepared tough sanctions it will adopt in the event of an invasion.

“The jury decides which path Vladimir Putin will choose,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in an interview with MSNBC on Thursday. “Will he choose the path of diplomacy and dialogue to resolve some of these issues or will he continue with confrontation and aggression?”

The head of the US delegation, Assistant Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, told reporters after the NATO talks that the Russians themselves may not yet know what their next decision will be. Throughout this week’s talks, the United States has repeatedly asserted that diplomacy can only take place if Russia defuses itself, which Sherman said on Monday that the United States defined as Russia dismissing its troops in barracks or telling the United States “that the exercises are underway and what their purpose is.” is.”

After Wednesday’s NATO meeting, Sherman said Russia was not committed to any de-escalation.

Russia says US demands “unacceptable”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov replied on Thursday that the US demands were “unacceptable”.

“I don’t think we need to explain how absolutely unacceptable such requests are and, of course, we won’t even discuss them,” Lavrov said.

U.S. officials expressed hope that discussions on areas of mutual interest between Russia and the United States – including nuclear weapons, mid-range missiles, and transparency on military exercises – could keep the conversations going. diplomatic. NATO leaders noted that Wednesday was the first time Russia had agreed to a meeting with the alliance in two years and they attended the four-hour meeting, which was longer than expected.

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

“I think the reality is that I will say that the Russian delegation attended almost four hours of a meeting where 30 nations spoke, and they did, which is not an easy thing to do. do, “she said on Wednesday.

But if it made it seem like Russia was open to compromise positions, Russia quickly poured cold water on it.

“The United States and its NATO allies are not ready to meet Russia halfway on key issues,” Ryabkov said Thursday, according to the state news agency TASS. “The main problem is that the United States and its NATO allies, under no circumstances, for whatever reason, are not prepared to meet our major demands.”

Blinken had warned ahead of the talks that no breakthrough was expected this week “in an atmosphere of escalation with a gun pointed at Ukraine’s temple.”

While Russia and NATO seemed to be talking to each other, the language they used illustrated how distant they remained from each other. Russia had proposed specific treaty language in the weeks leading up to the meetings and called them “negotiations,” while Sherman countered that no formal term had been put forward in what she described as “discussions. “.

Sherman said earlier in the week that she was unsure whether the Russians had come to the table for the three days of talks in good faith, or as a pretext to try to justify future military action.

“If Russia leaves, however, it will be quite obvious that it has never been at all serious about pursuing diplomacy,” she said. “That is why we collectively prepare for any eventuality.”

CNN’s Anna Chernova, Zahra Ullah and Mick Krever contributed to this reporting.

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