U.S., Russia Meet for Talks, But Neither Side Expecting Breakthrough Amid Tension

The United States and Russia have begun talks over Ukrainian tensions, although neither side is expected to come to an agreement.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov met in Geneva on Monday to begin the long-awaited talks. It is unclear how long the talks are expected to last, although they have been referred to as part of the "Strategic Security Dialogue" started by Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin last June.

Despite the diplomatic meeting, it is unlikely that an agreement or breakthrough will be made during the talks. Ryabkov told attendants of an informal dinner meeting on Sunday that he expected the talks to be "difficult," while Sherman doubled down on the U.S.' "commitment to...sovereignty, territorial integrity and the freedom of sovereign nations to choose their own alliances."

"What we are hoping for is that we can agree on a way forward, that we can agree on a series of meetings, that we can agree on a process," said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

The talks are expected to be followed by a meeting between Russia and NATO on January 12, 2022.

These meetings are all being made to address rising tensions between Russia and its neighbor Ukraine. Both former Soviet entities, Ukraine has been pushing to become a member of NATO over the past few weeks, resulting in Russia increasing its military presence along the border.

Sherman and Ryabkov
US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman (L) and Russian deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov (R) pose for pictures as they attend security talks on soaring tensions over Ukraine, at the US permanent Mission, in Geneva, on January 10, 2022. Neither entity is expected to concede to the other during the talks. Photo by Denis Balibouse/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. has played down hopes of significant progress this week and said some demands—like a possible halt to NATO expansion—go against countries' sovereign rights to set up their own security arrangements, and are thus non-negotiable.

But U.S. officials have expressed openness to other ideas, like curtailing possible future deployments of offensive missiles in Ukraine and putting limits on American and NATO military exercises in Eastern Europe—if Russia is willing to back off on Ukraine.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said bluntly Sunday that he doesn't expect any breakthroughs in the coming week. Instead, he said a more likely positive outcome would be an agreement to de-escalate tensions in the short term and return to talks at an appropriate time in the future. But the U.S. will have to see a de-escalation for there to be actual progress.

"It's very hard to see that happening when there's an ongoing escalation, when Russia has a gun to the head of Ukraine with 100,000 troops near its borders, the possibility of doubling that on very short order," Blinken said on ABC's "This Week."

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also sought to play down expectations.

"I don't think that we can expect that these meetings will solve all the issues," he told reporters in Brussels on Monday after talks with Olga Stefanishyna, Ukraine's deputy prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration.

Speaking to reporters during a visit to Rome, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said dialogue offered the only way out of the crisis.

"At the same time, it's equally clear that a renewed breach of Ukrainian sovereignty by Russia would have grave consequences," she said.

Russia has said it wants the issue resolved this month, but NATO is wary that Putin might be looking for a pretext, such as a failure in the negotiations, to launch an invasion.

The United States, which has emphasized that Ukraine's government and those of other European countries need to be included in the discussions, plans to discuss some bilateral issues in Geneva "but will not discuss European security without our European allies and partners," Price said Sunday.

Russia entered the talks seeking a clearer understanding of the U.S. position and cited signals from Washington that some of the Russian proposals can be discussed, Ryabkov said, according to state news agency Tass on Sunday.

Ryabkov laid out Russia's three demands: no further NATO expansion, no missiles on Russia's borders, and for NATO no longer to have military exercises, intelligence operations or infrastructure outside of its 1997 borders.

"The Russian side came here with a clear position that contains a number of elements that, to my mind, are understandable and have been so clearly formulated—including at a high level—that deviating from our approaches simply is not possible," Ryabkov told reporters Sunday.

Asked whether Russia was ready for compromise, he said, "The Americans should get ready to reach a compromise."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Russian U.S. Flags
US and Russian flags are displayed at the US permanent Mission, in Geneva, on January 10, 2022, for security talks on soaring tensions over Ukraine. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov met to discuss the tensions between Russia and Ukraine, although an agreement is not expected to be delivered. Photo by Denis Balibouse/AFP via Getty Images