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US, Russia agree to talks amid rising tensions over Ukraine

WASHINGTON – The Biden administration said Tuesday that talks with Russia on tensions around Ukraine and a host of other issues will kick off on January 10, in what US officials hope will mark a slow change from a possible military confrontation on Ukraine’s eastern border to a resumption of diplomacy.

The announcement came shortly after Russia stated that 10,000 soldiers fighters and special forces conducting exercises were returning to their barracks.

People visit a Christmas fair in front of the Saint Sophia Cathedral in central Kiev, Ukraine, on December 22, 2021. REUTERS / Valentyn Ogirenko

But that move took place some distance from Ukraine, and it was unclear whether the decision was part of the intense behind-the-scenes discussions underway to get Russia to withdraw tens of thousands of troops at the border before a start. serious diplomacy.

Jake sullivan, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, told the Council on Foreign Relations last week that “significant progress at the negotiating table, of course, will have to take place in the context of de-escalation, not escalation.” .

But the threat of a possible invasion of Ukraine is a key lever for Moscow, and Russian officials say the January 10 talks have to focus on their proposal to “tratted“which demands that NATO never offer accession to Ukraine or place its forces or weapons in the former Soviet states.

Some of those states are already members of NATO.

In a statement, the National Security Council did not say where the meeting would take place, but the most likely location is Geneva, where previous rounds of nuclear weapons talks have taken place.

He also did not say who would lead the delegation.

The nuclear talks have been led by the Undersecretary of State, Wendy sherman, and its Russian equivalent, Sergei Ryabkov.

The National Security Council said that Biden’s “approach to Ukraine has been clear and consistent:

Unite the alliance in two ways, deterrence and diplomacy. “

The deterrent part of the equation has included arming the Ukrainians with Javelin anti-tank missiles and other weapons.

It has also involved getting European allies and others to agree in advance on a series of economic sanctions if Russia sends its troops across the border to seize parts of Ukraine beyond Crimea, which it annexed in 2014.

But the United States and its allies were also “unified in our willingness to engage in principled diplomacy with Russia,” the White House said, adding that “when we sit down to speak, Russia can put its concerns on the table, and we too will put its concerns on the table. our concerns on the table with Russia’s activities. “

American diplomats are struggling to understand whether the diplomatic initiative that would begin next month is a serious effort by Russia to move NATO forces away from its border and end military aid to Ukraine, or a feint aimed at justify a military action.

Intelligence officials say they believe the president Vladimir Putin Russia has not decided whether it will invade Ukraine, but they are concerned that it may be reluctant to appear to be backing down if it begins to withdraw forces in large numbers.

Putin’s ultimate goal, many US officials speculate, is to destabilize Ukraine’s government and put in its place a leader who does not turn to the West for support.

That strategy has worked in Belarus, whose president, Alexander Lukashenko, has reached out to Putin and has pledged to participate in a growing number of joint military exercises.

Putin made clear in an interview on Sunday that he had no intention of taking his military options off the table.

He dismissed Biden’s promise that the sanctions under study would be far more severe than those the United States and its allies have ever imposed against Russia.

Putin said he would consider “various” options if the West refused to comply with his demands.

“It will depend on the proposals that our military experts present to me,” he said.

But Putin has options that do not involve troop movements, including using cyber weapons to cut off part of the electricity grid in Ukraine, which is connected to Russia’s grid.

Two such attacks, in 2015 and 2016, paralyzed parts of Ukraine, as did the NotPetya attack in 2017, which shut down banks, shops and the media.

It is considered one of the costliest cyberattacks in modern history.

c.2021 The New York Times Company

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