Russia, US voice hope for diplomacy over Ukraine

—Lavrov, Blinken conclude Geneva talks aimed at defusing tensions

Foreign Desk Report
GENEVA: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov have held talks in Geneva over the Ukraine crisis.
Friday’s high-stakes meeting concluded Blinken’s whistle-stop European tour; he has been seeking commitments among Washington’s allies over how to respond if Moscow presses ahead with a feared invasion of its neighbour.
The United States has called on Russia to pull back thousands of troops it has massed near the border with Ukraine, warning any incursion would be met with a swift, severe and united response from the White House and its partners.
Moscow denies it is planning an attack, and demands that the US-headed NATO military alliance end activity in Eastern Europe and Ukraine and never embrace the former Soviet republic as a new member.
Agencies add: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met for talks in Geneva on Friday amid mounting fears that Russia could be about to invade Ukraine.
“This is a critical moment,” Mr Blinken said in his opening remarks.
The US and Russia “don’t expect to resolve our differences here today”, he added, but hoped to test whether diplomacy was still a viable option.
Speaking afterwards, Mr Lavrov described the talks as open and useful.
Moscow has 100,000 troops near its borders with Ukraine, but denies planning to invade.
Across the table in a luxury Swiss hotel, Mr Blinken warned his Russian counterpart of a “united, swift and severe” response if Russia did take that step.
President Vladimir Putin has issued demands to the West which he says concern Russia’s security, including that Ukraine be stopped from joining Nato.
He wants the Western defensive alliance to abandon military exercises and stop sending weapons to eastern Europe, which Moscow sees as its backyard.
At a press conference after the meeting, Mr Lavrov accused Nato of working against Russia. He reiterated Moscow’s position that it has “never threatened the Ukrainian people” and has no plans to attack Ukraine.
The US will present Russia with a written response to its security red lines “next week”, he added.
Mr Blinken is expected to address the media shortly.