Russia, US foreign ministers to meet amid rising concerns over Ukraine

Dec 2, 2021: 

Top US and Russian diplomats are due to meet in Sweden on Thursday as tensions rise after Washington expressed concern over Russia’s military build-up near Ukraine and warned of “high-impact” sanctions.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov are due to hold talks near Stockholm on the sidelines of the OSCE Ministerial Meeting in Europe. The OSCE is one of the few international dialogue forums to which both the United States and Russia belong. Since Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014, the agency has been tasked with overseeing respect for the peace agreement aimed at resolving the conflict with separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Kiev’s Western allies have been sounding the alarm about Russia’s troop deployment on Ukraine’s borders amid fears of a possible attack in recent weeks. Moscow, which is accused of backing separatists fighting Kiev, has denied plotting the attack and accused NATO of spreading tensions.

At a NATO meeting in the Latvian capital, Riga, on Wednesday, Blinken said he was “deeply concerned” about the evidence that Russia was planning significant offensive against Ukraine.

Blinken insisted that “diplomacy is the only responsible way to resolve this potential crisis” but warned that if Moscow pursued an aggression it would have “far-reaching and lasting consequences”.

Moscow on Wednesday retaliated by accusing Ukraine of amassing tens of thousands of troops in the east of the country, amid growing concerns. Putin also called for talks with the West aimed at extending NATO further east and providing “legal guarantees” against the deployment of any weapons system near the Russian border.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the incorporation of a large part of Eastern Europe into the US-led bloc, Moscow refused to believe that Ukraine could one day follow it – although Kiev’s membership talks are currently in limbo.

For his part, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for direct talks with Moscow on the growing conflict with separatists in his country’s east, which has already killed 13,000 people.

Prior to meeting with Lavrov, Blinken will hold talks with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmitry Kuleba on the sidelines of the OSCE summit near Stockholm’s Orlando Airport. In addition to Ukraine, other issues will be discussed, including the migration crisis on the Belarus-EU border and the resumption of clashes between OSCE members Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Long overdue, the OSCE meeting “comes at a crucial moment,” said Michael Carpenter, the US ambassador to the body, adding that tensions were rising on Europe’s doorstep.

The US State Department said the European Union had reached an agreement on new sanctions against Belarus on Wednesday and that the United States would follow suit soon. The Plenary Session of OSCE Ministers is not expected to approve any major agreement, as consensus is needed.

Moscow often blocks resolutions on Ukraine, because Crimea is described as Ukrainian or Russia is characterised as a direct actor in the conflict, while Moscow officially sees it as an internal Ukrainian conflict.

The Blinken-Lavrov talks are the first high-level meeting between the two superpowers since the summit between Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin in Geneva in June. The two foreign ministers had already met at a meeting of the Arctic Council in Iceland in May.

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