US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov’s meeting wrapped up after more than 7 hours in Geneva, Switzerland, after holding a working dinner on Sunday evening.
Deputy National Security Adviser Jon Finer told CNN’s Jim Sciutto on Monday that he does not “see a situation in which the US walks away” from talks with Russia, even if Kremlin officials take positions during this week’s discussions that are considered nonstarters by the US.
“Russia put out positions that are non-starters and said other things we think maybe present some areas in which we can work to make progress, and we’re going to find that out during the course of this week,” Finer said.
Russian demands, released publicly a few weeks before the talks, include that NATO not expand further east and pledge to never admit Ukraine as a new member.
Asked whether success requires Russia pulling back its forces from the border with Ukraine, Finer said he would not be “setting the bar on the negotiating team while the talks are still underway.”
“This is the first opportunity we’ve had at a high level to explore and understand better what is Russia’s position, what are Russia’s intentions, to better understand where we are coming from,” he said.
The global community will be closely following the discussions, which have been billed as a late attempt to avert a war on Europe’s eastern flank. On Wednesday, a Russian delegation will meet with members the North Atlantic Treaty Organization at the NATO-Russia Council in Brussels.
But US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has already played down the prospects of a breakthrough. “It’s hard to see making actual progress, as opposed to talking, in an atmosphere of escalation with a gun to Ukraine’s head. So, if we’re actually going to make progress, we’re going to have to see de-escalation, Russia pulling back from the threat that it currently poses to Ukraine,” Blinken said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.
“We’re here because repeatedly over the last decade, Russia has committed acts of aggression against neighbors — Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine in 2014, and now the renewed threat about Ukraine today,” he added.
“It’s also not about making concessions. It’s about seeing whether, in the context of dialogue and diplomacy, there are things that both sides, all sides can do to reduce tensions,” Blinken said.
The Sunday dinner between Ryabkov and Sherman was “difficult but business-like,” Ryabkov told state news agency RIA Novosti. “Initially, it was clear that their line was to immerse our ideas, our proposals and our approaches in the technological environment from the point of view of diplomacy that has developed over the past decades.”
The State Department readout of the dinner said Sherman “stressed the United States’ commitment to the international principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity, and the freedom of sovereign nations to choose their own alliances.”
Ryabkov said “there are no surprises for us in the approach that was at least publicly voiced by the American side before the events, we are ready for this. Let’s see what happens in the end.”
Biden told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a phone call earlier this month that the US and its allies “will respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine.”
CNN’s Mick Krever, Nic Robertson, Jeremy Herb and Natasha Bertrand contributed reporting.