Russia dials down Ukraine invasion threats as US talks begin

Russia has told the US it has no intention of invading Ukraine, as the two nations met for high-stakes talks designed to de-escalate military action against the Eastern European nation.

After a day-long meeting Geneva, Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov insisted that the US had nothing to fear, despite his country deploying more than 100,000 troops near the Ukraine border – a move than many in Washington view as a precursor to war.

A Ukrainian soldier mans a trench at the line of separation from pro-Russian rebels in the Donetsk region, Ukraine. The US has voiced doubts over whether Russia was “serious” about de-escalating the Ukraine crisis.Credit:AP

“There is no reason to fear some kind of escalatory scenario,” he told reporters after the meeting with US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman on Monday (AEDT).

However, Sherman remained sceptical, saying in a separate news conference that while the discussion was “frank and forthright” it was too soon to know whether Russia was genuine about scaling back.

“We will see whether in fact Russia understands that the best way to pursue diplomacy is for them to reduce those tensions and de-escalate,” she said.

The meeting was the first of three bilateral talks taking place across Europe this week, although both sides entered the process with reservations about the prospect of a breakthrough.

Ukrainian tanks are transported towards to the Luhansk region of Ukraine in December amid increasing Russian threats. Credit:AP

Among its demands, Russia is adamant that Ukraine should not be admitted into the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and wants the alliance to end its security cooperation with the country.

The push is designed to wind back western military activity in Ukraine and reassert Russia’s influence in what used to be parts of the Soviet Union.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has described the NATO expansion to Ukraine as “red line” for Moscow, while US President Joe Biden has warned that the US could impose new sanctions against Russia if it takes further military action against Ukraine.

Sherman reiterated this position in Geneva, pushing back on proposals that the US views as “non-starters”.

US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman.Credit:Getty

“We will not allow anyone to slam close NATO’s open door policy, which has always been central to our alliance,” she said.

“We will not forego bilateral cooperation with sovereign states that wish to work with the United States, and we will not make decisions about your Ukraine without Ukraine.”

During today’s meeting, the US told Russia that it was “open to discussing ways we can set reciprocal limits on the size and scope of military exercises and to improve transparency about those exercises,” Sherman said.

Both sides also discussed the possibility of reviving the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which the US abandoned in 2019 after years of accusing Russia of breaching it.

And they also found some common ground, reiterating the joint statement it released last week with China, France, and the UK, which affirmed that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

Tensions between the Cold War foes intensified last month after nearly 100,000 Russian troops gathered near the border of Ukraine, eight years after Russia annexed Ukraine’s southern Crimean Peninsula.

Russia denies the move was a precursor to invasion, arguing that it is instead responding to what it has described as provocative behaviour from Ukraine, which has tilted toward the West in recent years – and the NATO military alliance.

However, the US has disclosed intelligence suggesting that Russia has a war plan with a likely invasion force of 175,000 troops, which Ukraine’s military would have little ability to stop even with the support of American-provided equipment and training.

“One country cannot dictate the terms of another country’s foreign policy, or another country’s own alliances,” Sherman said.

“It bears repeating that it was Russia that invaded Ukraine in 2014, it was Russia that continues to fuel the wars in Eastern Ukraine that has claimed nearly 14,000 Ukrainian lives, and now it is Russia’s actions fuelling a new crisis – not only for Ukraine, but for all of Europe.”

Sherman is the deputy to US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, and America’s lead diplomat at these latest round of talks. Today’s meeting will be followed by a meeting of US allies in Brussels ahead of a NATO-Russia meeting on Wednesday and an Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe meeting in Vienna on Thursday.

The talks are being watched with interest around the world, including in Australia, which could be called in to help the US in the event of an invasion into Ukraine.

Labor foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong has asked the Morrison government consult the Opposition on any changes to Australia’s position heading into this year’s election, and has also said China should use its close relationship with Russia to convince it to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty.

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