US and Russia to hold Ukraine crisis talks

January 10 meeting in Geneva come after weeks of heightening tension, with Washington accusing Russia of massing tens of thousands of troops and plotting winter invasion

Ukrainian reservists attend a military exercise at a training ground near Kiev, Ukraine, this month. EPA

The US and Russia will hold key talks in Geneva on January 10 to discuss European security and the crisis at the Ukrainian border, where Russia has amassed more than 100,000 troops amid western fears Moscow is planning to invade.

“We look forward to engaging with Russia in the strategic stability dialogue on January 10,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Tuesday.

The Kremlin has said the West and Nato are encroaching dangerously close to Russia's borders and has demanded that the military alliance not expand eastward.

The meeting will be followed by a Russia-Nato summit on January 12 and a meeting of the Organisation of Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) a day later.

“There will be areas where we can make progress, areas I'm sure where we will disagree, that's what diplomacy is about,” Mr Price said.

The US did not announce who will lead the delegation to Geneva.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have taken the lead in handling the Ukraine crisis with Russia and the Europeans.

But even as it prepares for dialogue with Moscow, Washington is maintaining pressure on the Kremlin to deter it from invading Ukraine.

The Pentagon announced on Tuesday that a US carrier strike group will remain in the Mediterranean Sea instead of journeying to the Middle East, USNI News reported.

The change is meant to reassure European allies of the US commitment to regional security.

A White House official told The National on Tuesday that the Biden administration is committed to deterrence and diplomacy.

“President [Joe] Biden’s approach on Ukraine has been clear and consistent: unite the alliance behind two tracks — deterrence and diplomacy. We are unified as an alliance on the consequences Russia would face if it moves on Ukraine. But we are also unified in our willingness to engage in principled diplomacy with Russia,” the official said.

Moscow this month presented the West with sweeping security demands, saying Nato must not admit new members while attempting to bar the US from establishing new bases in former Soviet republics.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov on Tuesday confirmed the Geneva meeting. Mr Biden and Russian leader Vladimir Putin met for their first summit there in June.

Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau of Poland, which takes the helm of the OSCE in the new year, will address the meeting, said a representative for the organisation, founded during the Cold War as a forum involving Moscow and the West.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Moscow would take a “hard line” in the talks aimed at defending its interests and avoiding “concessions".

Deployment by Russia of tens of thousands of troops to the border sparked fears in Kiev and its western allies of a wider war, possibly including further seizures of Ukrainian territory.

Mr Putin denies planning to attack the neighbouring country, saying the troop movements are meant to defend Russia against an encroaching western military.

The US and its European partners have threatened to impose harsh economic sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine, while also offering to hold negotiations.

AFP contributed to this report

Updated: December 29th 2021, 3:35 AM