Geneva | Russia’s diplomatic chief Sergei Lavrov set the tone Friday at the start of discussions considered crucial to defuse the Ukraine crisis, telling his US counterpart he did not expect a “breakthrough”.
Seated in front of him, Anthony Blinken promised a “united, swift and severe” response from Washington and its allies in the event of an invasion of Ukraine, but also emphasized that the United States continues to seek a diplomatic solution.
The meeting, taking place in one of the mansions on the banks of Lake Geneva, should last only two hours, before the two men speak separately to the press.
Sergei Lavrov and Anthony Blinkin, who know each other well, shook hands around 10am GMT before getting to the heart of the matter before even escorting reporters from the conference room.
The meeting is the last point in an intense diplomatic ballet show, as Washington suspects Moscow wants to invade Ukraine, which the Kremlin denies while maintaining about 100,000 troops along its neighbor’s border.
In front of the flags of the two countries, the two veteran diplomats and their team meet in a conference room at President Wilson’s Hotel, seated at two long tables – seven people on each side – covered in white tablecloths and decorated with small purple bouquets. .
A soft color contrasting with the harsh tone between the two capitals, boding ill for the progress that could be made at the Geneva meeting.
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Less than 20 minutes before the start of the meeting, Russia announced from Moscow that it wants the withdrawal of foreign NATO forces from Romania and Bulgaria as part of a treaty calling for a de-escalation of the Ukraine crisis.
Mr. Blinken reached the shores of Lake Geneva after a brisk tour of Kiev, to assure the support of the Westerners in Berlin, with Germany, France and the United Kingdom to confirm the solidity of the Allied front.
German Chancellor Olaf Schulz and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson reiterated threats of US retaliation by warning that Russia should expect “significant and massive” costs in the event of a military attack by Ukraine.
Wendy Sherman, the State Department’s number two, tweeted again overnight that America and its allies had reached out, but “so far our goodwill gestures have been denied.”
His Russian counterpart, Sergei Ryabkov, called in English to reporters present in the conference room that “Russia fears no one, not even the United States,” when a reporter asked him what Russia fears.
He said in Russian this time that “the American attempt to increase tensions yesterday and the day before yesterday did not create the necessary atmosphere” for the talks, adding, “We will try to change your tone to the Americans to urge them to act according to our agenda, on security guarantees.”
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