VIENNA — Russian officials on Thursday signaled they could abandon diplomatic efforts to resolve the security crisis over Ukraine, bringing an ominous end to a turbulent week of European diplomacy and dispelling hopes negotiators could pave the way for easing tensions in Eastern Europe. .
One senior Russian diplomat said talks with the West were approaching a “dead end” while another said the Kremlin would wait until it received written responses to its demands from Washington and NATO next week before deciding how to proceed.
It was clear that Russia’s next move would depend on President Vladimir Putin, who, his spokesman said Thursday, has been regularly briefed this week on talks with the West.
“The United States and its allies are effectively saying no to key elements of these texts,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said, referring to draft agreements with NATO and Washington that Russia released last month. “This is what we call a dead end or a different approach.”
In Washington, Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, told reporters that after a week of diplomacy, the United States is ready for further talks, especially about missile deployments and military exercises in Europe, but is also preparing to respond to “further Russian invasion of Ukraine.”
“We have agreed very clearly with Russia on the costs and consequences of further military action or destabilization,” Mr. Sullivan said. So we’re ready anyway.
Mr. Sullivan said Russia’s reaction to the meetings in Geneva, Brussels and Vienna was mixed, noting that some officials were “reassuring” while others sounded “deeply pessimistic.” But he added: “I’m not going to get into the head of the Russians” and noted that the American intelligence services have not yet established that the Russians have finally decided on a military course of action.
The United States representative at Thursday’s meeting, Michael R. Carpenter, also described the two sides as being at odds with no clear solution.
“We must never tolerate the trampling or erosion of our founding principles,” Mr. Carpenter said. “It means no tolerance for explicit or implicit spheres of influence, no restrictions on the sovereign right of nations to choose their own alliances, no preference for the security requirements of one state over the security requirements of another.”
Russia is demanding that NATO drastically reduce its presence along Russia’s borders in Eastern Europe, including ending all military cooperation with Ukraine and providing legally binding guarantees that the country will never join the alliance. Mr. Ryabkov said dialogue with the United States was ongoing, but also warned that Mr. Putin was getting options from the military on what to do “if the situation worsens.”
These options, according to analysts and Western officials, are likely to entail new Russian military actions against Ukraine. Joining the discussions for the first time this week on Thursday, Ukraine said it had identified 106,000 Russian troops and 1,500 tanks at its border and accused Moscow of pointing “a gun at our common European security.”
Thursday’s meeting, the last of three negotiating sessions this week between Russia and the West, took place in Vienna at a meeting of the 57-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which includes Russia and Ukraine, as well as the United States.
“It seems that the risk of war in the OSCE region is now higher than at any time in the last 30 years,” Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau, who took over the chairmanship of the organization this year, said at the opening of the session.
The West insists that all countries should be free to choose their alliances, while the Kremlin says that NATO cannot expand eastward and that Western military cooperation with post-Soviet countries such as Ukraine poses an existential threat to Russia’s security.
Although Russian officials said this week they were impressed by the seriousness with which the Biden administration, which the Kremlin considers its main partner, was negotiating, there was no sign of a break in the deadlock on Thursday.
And while U.S. officials say they’re open to discussing some of Russia’s concerns, such as negotiating mutual limits on where and how military exercises are conducted, or perhaps resurrecting the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, from which the United States has withdrawn two years ago. — they reject any discussion of Russia’s central demand to curtail NATO expansion.
And it is this larger goal that seems to be driving Russia in the talks as it seeks to keep Ukraine from joining NATO and NATO forces from stationing troops or weapons in the former Soviet republics that have since joined the Western alliance. The United States insists that it will not give up fundamental principles, including the right of nations to choose their allies, which underlie NATO’s “open door” policy.
Understanding Escalating Tensions Around Ukraine
In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also adopted a pessimistic tone.
“The difficult reality now is that we were promised a written answer,” Mr. Lavrov said in an interview aired Thursday, according to the Interfax news agency. “We will be waiting for this. And then we will determine our next steps.”
Mr. Carpenter, who was asked about Mr. Lavrov’s comments, said he did not know if there would be such a written response.
Ukraine, rejecting Russian claims that it has no plans for an invasion, has said it needs to reverse Russian troop concentrations near the Ukrainian border.
“The Russian leadership once again proves the voluntarism of Moscow, which at any moment directs weapons at our common European security,” said the representative of Ukraine Yevhen Tsymbalyuk.
Thursday’s talks were held at a lower diplomatic level than the talks in Brussels and Geneva earlier this week, and were not attended by representatives of key countries above the rank of ambassador. Their host, the OSCE, is expected to serve as a key forum for further negotiations should the Kremlin decide to resort to diplomacy.
“We are not indifferent to the security objections expressed by the participating States,” said Polish Foreign Minister Mr. Rau. “I believe that the OSCE is the right forum to discuss all aspects of comprehensive security.”
It was the latest sign that Western countries are struggling to engage with Russia, which has warned of a “military-technical” response if concerns about its security – such as open Western military cooperation with Ukraine – are not addressed.
While Russia denies it has plans to invade Ukraine, researchers determined some new signs of Russian troops moving towards the Ukrainian border in recent days.
Russia’s representative at the talks in Vienna on Thursday, Alexander Lukashevich, stressed that Moscow does not rule out the possibility of continuing negotiations. Military analysts point out that if Russia invades Ukraine, the winter frost would be beneficial for its heavy armored vehicles.
“If we do not hear a constructive response to our proposals within a reasonable time,” Mr. Lukashevich said in comments published by his office, “we will be forced to draw appropriate conclusions and take all necessary measures to ensure a strategic balance and eliminate unacceptable threats to our national security.” “.
Anton Troyanovsky reported from Vienna and David E. Sanger from Washington. Oleg Matsnev provided a report from Moscow.