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U.S.-Russia talks notch minor progress on arms control but remain stuck on NATO expansion

Russian officials deny plans to invade Ukraine
Russian officials deny plans to invade Ukraine after start of negotiations with U.S. 07:25

Top diplomats from the United States and Russia each said Monday that bilateral, "business-like" talks in Geneva offered some openings for future engagement on missile systems and military exercises. But the two sides remained at an impasse on the future of NATO membership, which the Russians called a "top priority."  

Speaking from Geneva, where the two delegations met to kick off a week of intensive diplomacy, deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said the U.S. had offered to meet again "soon" to discuss missile placement and a possible revival of the now-defunct Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. She also said the U.S. had signaled its openness to setting "reciprocal limits on the size and scope of military exercises, and to improve transparency about those exercises." 

Two officials from the Department of Defense, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, Eurasia Laura K. Cooper and Lieutenant General James J. Mingus, are accompanying Sherman during her meetings. Speaking from the Pentagon on Monday, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said the Department of Defense is aware of and supports discussing missile capabilities in Europe assuming that there would be reciprocity from Russia in negotiations on that point. The U.S. does not have intermediate-range missiles in Europe and has no plans to put them there, so there would likely need to be more concessions from Russia regarding missiles.    

Russia's deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov, who led the Russian delegation, told reporters after the nearly eight-hour meeting that the talks were "very professional" and repeated that Moscow had no intention of attacking Ukraine. "There is no reason to fear some kind of escalatory scenario," he said.  

Switzerland US Russia Security Talks
US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, left, and Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov attend security talks at the United States Mission in Geneva, Switzerland, Monday, Jan. 10, 2022.  Denis Balibouse / AP

But key issues were "still pending," he said, and said Russia's demand that Ukraine and Georgia "never, ever" join NATO was a "top priority" for Moscow. 

"We need ironclad, waterproof, bulletproof, legally binding guarantees. Not assurances, not safeguards, but guarantees," Ryabkov said.  

Western powers weeks ago began publicly dismissing that demand as a non-starter, which Sherman also reiterated Monday.  

"We will not allow anyone to slam closed NATO's "Open Door" policy, which has always been central to the NATO Alliance," Sherman said. "We will not forego bilateral cooperation with sovereign states that wish to work with the United States. And we will not make decisions about Ukraine without Ukraine, about Europe without Europe, or about NATO without NATO." 

And while she acknowledged the Russians claimed to have no intention of invading Ukraine, she said whether that was true and Moscow would move to deescalate remained an open question. 

"I would note that none of this was notified to anyone, and it is typical that we notify each other's exercises to each other where we can," she said. "And they can prove that, in fact, they have no intention by de-escalating and returning troops to barracks." 

Monday's meeting was the first of several diplomatic engagements with Russia scheduled in three cities this week, but the only time diplomats from the U.S. and Russia were expected to speak one-on-one. The talks took place in a forum called the Strategic Stability Dialogue, which was relaunched after President Biden and Putin met in Geneva in June 2021 and focuses most closely on mitigating the risk from nuclear weapons and conflict.  

On Tuesday, Sherman will meet with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels, Belgium, ahead of Wednesday's NATO-Russia Council meeting there. On Thursday, a group of 57 nations comprising the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) – which include Russia and Ukraine – will convene a meeting in Vienna, Austria.  

"I fully expect that the NATO-Russia Council and the OSCE this week, Russia will hear a consistent message from the United States and from our allies and partners – namely, that it is on Russia to de-escalate tensions so that we have a real chance at finding diplomatic solutions," Sherman said Monday.  

Eleanor Watson contributed to this report. 

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