The head of US diplomacy on Wednesday urged the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, to opt for the “peaceful path” in the crisis of Ukraine, two days before a Russian-American diplomatic face-to-face.
Antony Blink, who will meet his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on friday in Geneva, also announced that at that meeting he will not provide a written response to a series of Russian demands, despite Moscow’s insistence.
Russia has deployed tens of thousands of troops on its border with Ukraine, raising fears of an invasion. Although he denies any warlike intent, the Kremlin insists that a de-escalation requires guarantees for its safety, in particular the commitment not to extend the OTAN to the east, integrating Ukraine.
The US Secretary of State, who met this Wednesday with the Ukrainian president Volodimir Zelensky and its counterpart Dmitro Kuleba, indicated that the ball is now in Russia’s court.
“I strongly hope that we can stay on a peaceful and diplomatic track, but ultimately, this is President Putin’s decision,” he said.
Washington also announced “an additional 200 million dollars for defense and security aid” from Ukraine, which will surely irritate Russia, which may see it as a threat.
President Zelensky, who usually laments an apparent lack of Western commitment to his country in the face of Russia, thanked this Wednesday U.S for his “military help” in “difficult times”.
After his visit to Kiev, the head of US diplomacy is expected in Berlin on Thursday to discuss with Germany, France and the United Kingdom.
And, above all, on Friday, Blinken must meet with his Russian counterpart in Geneva, to try to resume dialogue.
The Kremlin demanded again on Wednesday written answers “in the next few days” to its demands, in particular regarding the non-enlargement of NATO.
Blinken, for his part, stressed that he will not present “any document” in writing. “We have to see where we are located and if there are still opportunities,” he said.
Moscow has stressed that its demands are non-negotiable and the United States regards the main ones as unacceptable.
The head of Ukrainian diplomacy said he hoped that the talks in Geneva would lead to “less aggressive and more constructive behavior on the part of Russia.”
After a round of talks last week, Russians and Westerners, with the Americans at the forefront, noted the gap that separates them from Russia.
Blinken reaffirmed on Wednesday that the United States and its allies will impose “very severe consequences” on Russia in the event of an invasion or aggression against Ukraine. Moscow downplayed these threats.
NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, assured his support for Zelensky “in the face of the threat from Russia”.
To overcome these tensions, the Kremlin demands, in addition to an agreement prohibiting any expansion of NATO, that Westerners give up organizing military exercises and deployments in Eastern Europe.
Russia is considered, despite its denials, as the sponsor of pro-Russian fighters at war against Kiev for eight years in eastern Ukraine.
Moscow regularly accuses Kiev of wanting to launch an assault on this region, something its foreign minister denies.
Ukraine “does not foresee any offensive operations” against the pro-Russian separatists, the minister said, assuring that he wants “a political solution” to the tensions.
On Wednesday, pro-Russian separatists accused Kiev of maintaining tensions to win Western support.
“It is in Ukraine’s interest to maintain this unstable situation because it attracts the attention of its Western partners, gains political weight and financial support,” he said. Natalia Nikonorova, the chief diplomat of the self-proclaimed secessionist republic of Donetsk.
“Peace and tranquility”
In the city of Donetsk, one of the separatist strongholds near the front lines, large pro-Russian patriotic banners have been displayed on dilapidated old Soviet buildings: “Glory to the liberation warriors” or “We are Russian Donbas,” referring to that Ukrainian separatist region.
“The talks are good, at least it’s not war,” he said. Alexei Bokarev, a 77-year-old retired miner.
“How is all this going to end? No one knows that, but the fact is that (…) everyone is interested in this issue, for peace and tranquility,” he said.
Russia says it feels threatened by the strengthening of NATO in Eastern Europe since the fall of the USSR.
In response to a pro-Western revolution in Ukraine, Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014.