High-stakes talks between Russia and the West have so far failed to de-escalate a tense standoff between the sides, with the United States warning of a serious risk of a Russian offensive against Ukraine.
In addition to demanding a ban on Ukraine’s future membership to NATO, Russia wants the Western alliance to pull back its forces to where they were in 1997, before eastern European members joined. Moscow has amassed some 100,000 troops close to the border with Ukraine and in annexed Crimea, and its announcement of surprise military exercises with neighboring Belarus has fueled tensions further.
NATO and the U.S. have called Russia’s demands “non-starters,” instead offering to open a dialogue with Russia on a host of lesser issues such as missile deployment and military exercises. Moscow has said this is unacceptable, and says it is awaiting written responses from the U.S. on each of its demands.
Jan. 19: What you need to know today
- U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to choose the “peaceful path,” emphasizing a “strong preference for a diplomatic path to de-escalate conflict” ahead of his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in Geneva on Friday.
- In a joint press conference with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, Blinken said “Ukrainians should prepare for difficult days” but that the U.S. stands with Ukrainians and will work with Kyiv to deal with economic challenges posed by Moscow. Despite articulating a “strong preference for a diplomatic path,” Blinken repeated that many of Russia’s demands are “non-starters.”
- Blinken also said he will not present a formal response to Russian proposals on the Ukraine crisis in talks with Lavrov this week, saying the two sides needed to explore common ground.
- “Ukraine is not planning any offensive operations” against pro-Moscow breakaway regions in the east of the country, Kuleba said, speaking at the press conference with Blinken.
- Moscow voices impatience while waiting for a response to its security proposals, with Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov saying at the Valdai discussion club that “we are not ready to wait forever” and any changes to its deployments would not be made from “outside pressure.”
- Ryabkov also says Russia will not accept a temporary ban on Ukraine joining NATO that would expire in 20 to 30 years.
- The U.S. confirmed that it has authorized an additional $200 million in defensive military aid to Ukraine. Zelenskiy said that “This [military] support not only speaks to our strategic plans of Ukraine joining the alliance, but more importantly to the level of our military, our military supplies.”
- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan offered to host talks between Russia and Ukraine in Turkey in an attempt to avoid war. Erdogan plans to “go to Ukraine in the coming weeks for negotiations with Zelenskiy,” according to his spokesperson.
- Unconfirmed video posted to social media appeared to show at least eight Russian Iskander short-range ballistic missiles, which have a range of 500 kilometers, and other military equipment being transported through the Kaluga region 220 kilometers from the Ukrainian border.
AFP contributed reporting.
Source: The Moscow Times