Tension in Ukraine – US and Russia hold “frank” talks – NEWS WORLD UPDATE

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, both described the talks in Geneva on Ukraine as “frank”.

The United States is expected to put its position in writing next week, after which further discussions will take place.

There are fears that a huge Russian military force gathered near Ukraine’s borders could be used to invade.

The United States and its allies have threatened further sanctions, while Russia itself denies plans to attack.

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With around 100,000 Russian troops deployed near Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin has made demands of the West that he says relate to Russia’s security, including that Ukraine not join NATO.

He wants the Western defensive alliance to abandon military exercises and stop sending weapons to Eastern Europe, seeing it as a direct threat to Russia’s security.

Russia seized and annexed the Crimean peninsula in southern Ukraine in 2014 after the Ukrainians overthrew their pro-Russian president. Russian-backed rebels also control large areas of eastern Ukraine near Russia’s borders following a bloody war with government forces.

There are fears that the simmering conflict in the east, which has claimed the lives of 14,000 people and driven at least two million people to flee their homes, could reignite and the Russian army could cross the border.

Mr Blinken warned his Russian counterpart of a “united, swift and severe” response in the event of a Russian invasion.

Speaking after the talks, he said the United States stands ready to explore possible ways to address Russian concerns in a spirit of reciprocity.

Previously, analysts had speculated that this could include greater transparency on military exercises in the region or the resumption of missile restrictions in Europe. Those rules were previously spelled out in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a Cold War-era pact the United States abandoned in 2019, after accusing Russia of violating the accord.

Blinken also urged Russia to end what he called its aggression against Ukraine, saying the troop build-up allowed it to attack Ukraine from the south, east and north.

He said the United States knows from experience that Moscow also has a “full playbook” of non-military means to advance its interests, including cyberattacks.

Blinken said the talks also touched on Iran and negotiations over its nuclear capabilities, which he called an example of how the United States and Russia can work together on security issues.

For his part, Lavrov described the talks as open and helpful, but accused NATO of working against Russia. He reiterated Moscow’s position that it had “never threatened the Ukrainian people” and had no intention of attacking Ukraine.

He also accused the Ukrainian government of using “state terrorism” against rebels in the east and “sabotage” the Minsk peace accords over the conflict.

Russia’s foreign minister said the United States would send “written responses” to all of Russia’s proposals next week, but Mr Blinken said only that America hoped to share its “concerns and ideas further”. details in writing next week”.

“Antony Blinken agreed that we need to have a reasonable dialogue, and I hope the emotions will subside,” Lavrov said.

The talks between the two diplomats came just a day after Russia unveiled plans for naval exercises involving more than 140 warships and more than 60 aircraft, seen as a show of force.

Also on Thursday, the United States said Russian intelligence officers recruited current and former Ukrainian government officials to step in as an interim government and cooperate with a Russian occupation force in the event of an invasion.

The US Treasury Department has imposed sanctions on two current Ukrainian lawmakers and two former government officials accused of being part of the plot.

Mr Blinken arrived in Geneva after a trip to Kyiv to show support for Ukraine, and talks with Britain, France and Germany in Berlin.

Several European nations have now moved to bolster Nato’s military deployment in eastern Europe. Spain is sending warships to join Nato naval forces in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, and Denmark also said it would send a frigate to the Baltic Sea.

French President Emmanuel Macron has offered to send troops to Romania.

Earlier this week, Britain announced it was supplying Ukraine with extra troops for training and defensive weapons.

In a speech on Friday, UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss called on Mr Putin to “desist and step back from Ukraine before he makes a massive strategic mistake” that would lead to terrible loss of life.

President Biden had triggered questions about the consistency of the US line on Ukraine on Wednesday, when he bleakly predicted that Russia would “move in” on Ukraine, but appeared to suggest a “minor incursion” could attract a weaker response from the US and its allies.

The message drew a rebuke from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who tweeted: “There are no minor incursions. Just as there are no minor casualties and little grief from the loss of loved ones.”

Mr Biden then sought to clarify by saying any Russian troop movement across Ukraine’s border would qualify as an invasion and that Moscow would “pay a heavy price”.

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