Kremlin: ‘No Significant Reason for Optimism’ After First of Three Important Dialogues With the West

By Dimitri Simes | January 11, 2022 | 3:22pm EST
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov in Geneva on Monday. (Photo by Denis Balibouse/ Pool /AFP via Getty Images)
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov in Geneva on Monday. (Photo by Denis Balibouse/ Pool /AFP via Getty Images)

Moscow (CNSNews.com) – Russia sees “no significant reason for optimism” following highly-anticipated security talks with the United States in Geneva, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday.

“So far, there’s nothing to say about the result,” Peskov told reporters. “There are still several rounds ahead that will make it possible to come up with a clearer understanding, and a clearer picture of where we are with the Americans.”

Some senior Russian lawmakers expressed skepticism that the two sides would be able to reach consensus over the deep-seated differences between them, but suggested that it made little difference anyway, since the U.S. lacked the resolve to back up its position by force. 

In an interview with the Parliamentskaya Gazeta newspaper, Senator Konstantin Kosachev, deputy speaker of the Federation Council, conceded that the U.S. was unlikely to accept Russia’s demand for a halt to NATO expansion.

But Kosachev also argued that Washington was not prepared to go to war over extending NATO membership to Ukraine.

“The Americans are not ready to fight for such a goal, but they are willing to drag chestnuts out of the fire using someone else’s hands,” he said.

“These are the ‘red lines’ that the United States does not want to cross. For example, they will not fight for Ukraine, just as they did not fight for Georgia during the conflict with Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 2008.”

Monday’s strategic stability dialogue in Geneva – the first of three meetings in Europe this week dealing with Russia-West tensions, went on for nearly eight hours. The U.S. delegation was headed by Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman while the Russian team was led by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov.

Additional consultations are planned at a special meeting of the NATO-Russia Council in Brussels on Wednesday, and a session of the permanent council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Vienna on Thursday.

The meetings come after months of growing tensions between the U.S. and Russia in Europe. The Biden administration and Ukrainian government say Russia has amassed around 100,000 troops and heavy equipment near its border with Ukraine.

Washington has expressed concern that Russia is planning to invade, while Moscow insists it is merely conducting standard military exercises.

At the same time, however, Russian President Vladimir Putin has made clear that he would be prepared to pursue a “military technical” response if NATO offers Ukraine membership.

Russia wants the U.S. and NATO to provide “legally binding security guarantees” in writing. Two documents drafted by its foreign ministry call for no further NATO expansion, no more NATO military activity in Ukraine and other countries bordering Russia, and no new U.S. military bases in former Soviet republics.

Russia wants NATO to withdraw all military infrastructure to the positions held in 1997, the year in which the Russia-NATO Founding Act was concluded. Doing so would mean a pullback of troops and weapons systems from Poland, Romania, and the Baltic states.

The U.S. has stated that although it regards some of Russia’s proposals as “unacceptable,” it believes “there’s merit in having a discussion.”

Following Monday’s talks, Ryabkov told reporters that “no improvement” had been achieved on the issue of NATO enlargement. He emphasized that Moscow would settle for nothing less than a written legal guarantee that neither Ukraine nor Georgia would ever be admitted to the alliance.

“We came to Geneva so that all this would not come to a standstill, and we spent considerable efforts to explain to our American colleagues why playing with fire is not in their interests,” he said. “We need radical changes in the very outline of our relations.”

Ryabkov said he did not consider the situation “hopeless,” however, and said Russia would determine its next steps following the meetings on Wednesday and Thursday.

Sherman likewise expressed hope for progress over the coming days, but told reporters that Russia’s demand for a halt on NATO expansion was a “non-starter” for Washington.

“We will not agree that any country should have a veto over any other country when it comes to being part of the NATO alliance,” she said. “NATO has its own processes for that, and we support those processes, and we feel very strongly that countries get to decide their own foreign policy orientation and how they want to proceed in terms of their own sovereignty and their own territorial integrity.”

Sherman repeated the administration’s warnings that a Russian invasion would be met by sanctions against key financial institutions, introducing export controls against major industries, NATO’s bolstering of its military presence on allied territory, and an increase in security assistance to Ukraine.

It was reported earlier that the administration is weighing excluding Moscow from the SWIFT international payment system and adopting “extraordinary” export control measures that would cut Russia’s access to U.S. technologies and electronics.

The Washington Post reported that the administration was exploring ways to support a Ukrainian insurgency in the event that Russia succeeded in overthrowing the government in Kyiv.

The U.S. Senate is scheduled to vote this week on legislation authored by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to impose new sanctions against Russia’s Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline to Germany.

The administration previously agreed to waive sanctions against the company building the pipeline, citing the importance of the U.S. alliance with Germany.

Threats of new sanctions have done little to cool Moscow’s rhetoric. At his press briefing in Geneva, Ryabkov vowed that Russia would not give in to “attempts at blackmail and intimidation.”

Likewise, Peskov compared reports of new US sanctions to an “information artillery barrage” and declared that they would not influence Russia’s behavior.

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