The foreign ministers of Russia and the United States will meet in Switzerland on Friday to discuss escalating tensions over Ukraine after a series of meetings between officials from both sides last week failed to achieve any progress, at a time when Britain assured Russia and China that the West would stand united “in defense of democracy against dictatorship.” .
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken arrived in Geneva for talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, after a tour of Europe to garner support from US allies for imposing sanctions on Moscow if it goes ahead with its invasion of Ukraine.
Russia has massed tens of thousands of troops on its border with Ukraine, and Western countries fear that Moscow is planning a new attack on a country it invaded in 2014 to annex Crimea.
Russia denies it is planning any attack, but says it may take unspecified military action if a list of demands, including a NATO pledge never to accept Ukraine as a member, is not met.
Washington’s hopes of building a united front against Moscow were complicated by statements made by US President Joe Biden at a press conference last Wednesday, in which he expected Russia to interfere in Ukraine and said it would pay a heavy price if it did so.
Asked about Biden’s comments, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia had been receiving similar warnings for at least a month. “We believe that they do not contribute in any way to defuse the tension that has now arisen in Europe, but can contribute to the destabilization of the situation,” Peskov said.
In Kiev, on Wednesday, Blinken sought to reassure Ukraine about US support. He said before meeting German, French and British officials in Berlin on Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin might order an imminent invasion.
Blinken’s deputy Wendy Sherman also met with her Russian counterpart, Sergei Ryabkov, in Geneva last week, where the two sides expressed positions that seem difficult to reconcile.
Russia wants NATO to pledge not to accept Ukraine’s membership and halt its eastward expansion. The US-led alliance rejected that.
US officials played down hopes of achieving tangible results during Friday’s meeting.
Britain warned on Friday Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping that the West would stand together “in defense of democracy against dictatorship”, which it believes is “more blatant than at any time since the Cold War.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, “If Russia launches any attack on Ukraine, no matter how large, it will be disastrous not only for Russia but for the world as well.”
This came in response to a question about the Russian-Ukrainian tension on Thursday, while he renewed his country’s support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Relations between Kiev and Moscow have been strained for nearly 7 years, against the backdrop of Russia’s illegal annexation of the Ukrainian Crimea and its support for separatists loyal to it in the Donbass.
Recently, Western countries accused Russia of massing its forces near the Ukrainian border, while Washington threatened to impose sanctions on Russia if it “launched an attack” on Ukraine.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on Friday called on Russia to “de-escalate” and hold “constructive talks” on Ukraine, warning that an invasion of that country would lead to a “terrible quagmire”.
During a visit to Sydney with British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, Truss said, “We and our allies will continue to support Ukraine, urge Russia to de-escalate and engage in constructive discussions.”
She added that “the Kremlin did not draw lessons from history,” stressing that “the invasion will only lead to a terrible quagmire and loss of life, as happened in Soviet Afghanistan and the conflict in Chechnya.”
More broadly, she called on the trusts of Western democracies to work closely with Australia and other allies in the Indo-Pacific region to “confront global aggressors” who have “become emboldened to a degree not seen since the Cold War,” she said.
Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutten called on the “free world” to “stand firm”, and Dutten told the “Seven Network” channel today, Friday, “When we see Russia behaving the way it does, it encourages other tyrants and other dictatorships to do the same, especially if they do not There is a reaction from the rest of the world.”
He added that “thousands of people will die, and this is something that no one wants to happen,” stressing that “the increase in Russian forces is very worrying.”