US, Russia to hold security, Ukraine talks January

The United States and Russia are set to hold much-anticipated talks in January on European security and the Ukraine conflict after Moscow listed demands including to end NATO’s expansion.

A spokesperson for the US National Security Council told AFP on condition of anonymity that the talks with Russia will take place on January 10.

The Kremlin has grown increasingly insistent that the West and NATO are encroaching dangerously close to Russia’s borders.

Moscow earlier this month presented the West with sweeping security demands, saying NATO must not admit new members and seeking to bar the United States from establishing new bases in former Soviet republics.

“The United States looks forward to engaging with Russia,” the National Security Council spokesperson said.

“When we sit down to talk, Russia can put its concerns on the table and we will put our concerns on the table with Russia’s activities as well.”

Moscow and NATO representatives are then expected to meet January 12, while Russia and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which includes the United States, will meet January 13, the spokesperson added.

The talks come after weeks of heightening tensions, with Washington accusing Russia of massing tens of thousands of troops around ex-Soviet Ukraine and plotting a winter invasion.

The January 10 meeting will be held as part of the Strategic Security Dialogue initiative launched by US President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin at their summit in Geneva last June.

While that format is mostly consecrated to resuscitating post-Cold War nuclear arms control treaties, the talks will also cover the standoff over Ukraine, where Russia has deployed a large combat force on the border, a senior White House official said, also on condition of anonymity.

The NATO-Russia Council meeting and the talks between Moscow and the OSCE’s Permanent Council are slated to focus on Ukraine.

The OSCE was founded during the Cold War as a forum between Russia and the West.

No cutting back for Ukraine

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov all but confirmed the talks, saying the dates had not yet been set but that no other days were being considered.

He added that Moscow expects the talks with the United States to focus on Russia’s security demands.

“What should be discussed are the projects submitted by the Russian side,” Ryabkov told Russian news agency RIA Novosti.

Ukraine is seeking to break from Moscow’s sphere of influence and eventually join the NATO alliance.

Russia already occupies a swath of its neighbour in the Crimean peninsula and is accused of fomenting a separatist pro-Moscow rebellion in the industrial east of the country.

Deployment by Russia of tens of thousands of new troops to the border sparked fears in Kiev and among its Western allies of a wider war, possibly including further seizures of Ukrainian territory.

Putin denies planning to attack the neighbouring country, saying the troop movements are to defend Russia against an encroaching Western military.

The United States and its European partners have threatened to impose harsh economic sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine, while also offering to hold negotiations.

The National Security Council spokesperson said Ukraine’s interests would not be ignored in cutting any deal with Russia.

Negotiations will include “nothing about our allies and partners without our allies and partners, including Ukraine,” the spokesperson said.

“President Biden’s approach on Ukraine has been clear and consistent: unite the alliance behind two tracks — deterrence and diplomacy. We are unified as an alliance on the consequences Russia would face if it moves on Ukraine,” the spokesperson added.

“But we are also unified in our willingness to engage in principled diplomacy with Russia.”

There was no immediate word on who would represent the two sides on January 10.

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