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Ukraine: Antony Blinken and Sergei Lavrov meet in Geneva to try to defuse the crisis

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The head of the American diplomacy, Antony Blinken, and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, meet Friday in Geneva, Switzerland, to discuss the growing tensions over Ukraine, despite the strong differences of views and the hundred of thousands of Russian soldiers massed on the Ukrainian borders.

The heads of American and Russian diplomacy gave themselves a handful of hours, Friday January 21 in Geneva, for a final attempt to defuse the Ukrainian crisis, Washington suspecting Moscow of wanting to invade its neighbor despite threats of heavy reprisals.

The meeting between Sergei Lavrov and Antony Blinken in a palace on the shores of Lake Geneva is the last pas de deux of an intense diplomatic ballet which began 11 days ago, already in Geneva, between their deputies.

They had agreed to continue to dialogue despite the strong differences of opinion and the hundreds of thousands of Russian soldiers massed on the borders of Ukraine.

If the diplomatic sequence of January 10 had lasted nearly eight hours, the face-to-face Blinken-Lavrov should not exceed two hours.

The two men, seasoned negotiators, have known each other for many years. Antony Blinken has a reputation for unshakable calm, Sergei Lavrov is more sanguine and has a biting verb.

“A rapid, severe and united response”

“We are facing complex problems and resolving them will take time. I don’t expect us to resolve them in Geneva,” said Antony Blinken on Thursday in Berlin, who is counting on “mutual understanding” and de-escalation. Russian side to ease tensions.

On Wednesday, President Joe Biden judged that his counterpart Vladimir Putin “will enter” Ukraine and he promised him “a rapid, severe and united response from the United States and our allies” if the Russian army crosses the border.

The Kremlin on Thursday denounced the “destabilizing” remarks, which could give ideas “to hotheads among Ukrainian representatives”.

>> Read also : The Ukrainian army, a featherweight against the Russian steamroller?

Russia, which already supports the rebellion in the east of the country which has killed more than 13,000 people since 2014 and annexed Crimea, denies any plans for an invasion. But the Kremlin insists on written guarantees for its security, including the promise that Kiev will not join NATO and that the Alliance will not seek to expand into what it considers its backyard.

The United States has already dismissed these requests as unreasonable.

New Cold War?

Antony Blinken arrives in Geneva after an express tour that took him from Kiev to Berlin, the city symbol of the reunification of Europe after the Cold War, to discuss with the German, French and British allies.

“To allow Russia to violate these principles with impunity would take us all back to more dangerous and unstable times, when this continent – and this city – was cut in two, separated by a no man’s land criss-crossed by military patrols, and when the threat of total war weighed heavily on everyone’s life”, recalled Antony Blinken in a speech delivered before his departure for Switzerland.

“It would also send the message, to others around the world, that these principles can be sacrificed,” he warned.

But the door is not quite closed, as the Biden administration has repeatedly said it is ready to discuss Russian fears for their safety.

During initial talks last week in Switzerland, US Assistant Secretary of State Wendy Sherman offered to draw inspiration from the defunct Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) disarmament treaty, signed during the Cold War with Moscow.

In 2019, former US President Donald Trump withdrew from the treaty, accusing Russia of violations.

On Wednesday, President Biden said he was ready for a new summit with Vladimir Putin, after that of June 16, 2021 in Geneva.

Russia did not say no to the proposals on missiles and maneuvers but reminded that that was not the main point. For good measure, she announced on Thursday major naval maneuvers in January and February in the Atlantic, the Arctic, the Pacific and the Mediterranean.

The head of the American diplomacy on Wednesday urged Vladimir Putin to choose the “peaceful path” and he also made it clear that he would not offer written answers to the very detailed requests made a few weeks ago by the Russians on the points of litigation.

For Washington, the clock is ticking, and last week the United States accused Russia of having “prepositioned” agents in Ukraine to carry out an operation that could serve as a “pretext for an invasion”.

With AFP

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