Ukraine talks: Russia sees no grounds for optimism ahead of Nato meeting

Ukraine talks: Russia sees no grounds for optimism ahead of Nato meeting

The Kremlin has said it sees “no significant reason for optimism” about diplomatic solutions for the Ukraine crisis, ahead of a meeting in Brussels between Russia and Nato’s 30 member states.

As Moscow was playing down the chances for success at the negotiating table after initial US-Russian talks in Switzerland on Monday, Russian forces deployed near Ukraine conducted a live-fire military exercise involving 3,000 troops and tanks, in a clear rejection of US demands for a de-escalation in the region.

A Russian delegation will hold talks with Nato’s 30 member states on Wednesday, in the first Nato-Russia Council meeting to be held since 2019. The idea behind the talks is to broaden the bilateral discussion begun by the US deputy secretary of state, Wendy Sherman, and her Russian counterpart, Sergei Ryabkov, in Geneva.

Sherman and Ryabkov pointed to the “useful” and “professional” nature of the Geneva talks, in which the US proposed reciprocal confidence-building measures limiting missile deployment and military exercises in Europe.

But Ryabkov said the negotiations had made no progress towards fulfilling Vladimir Putin’s central demand: a guarantee that Ukraine will never become a Nato member and that US troops and equipment would be withdrawn from former Soviet bloc countries in eastern Europe that are now in Nato.

“So far, let’s say we see no significant reason for optimism,” the Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters, adding that Russia was looking for quick results and would make an assessment of progress at the end of the week, following the Nato talks and a meeting on Thursday of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, is due to hold a press conference on Friday.

“There are no clear deadlines here, no one is setting them. There is just the Russian position that we will not be satisfied with the endless dragging out of this process,” Peskov said.

The US has firmly rejected the key Russian demands on Nato enlargement and troop withdrawals from eastern European countries that joined the treaty after 1997 as “non-starters”. Julianne Smith, the US ambassador to Nato, said Russia would get the same response from all members of the alliance on Wednesday.

“In our prior consultations and meetings with allies … it has become crystal clear that not a single ally inside the Nato alliance is willing to budge or negotiate anything as it relates to Nato’s open-door policy,” Smith told reporters. “I cannot imagine any scenario where that is up for discussion.”

As for Nato returning to its old posture before it began its eastern enlargement in 1997, the ambassador said: “I think we’re operating in today’s world with Nato as it stands today, and I don’t think anyone inside the Nato alliance is interested in going back in time to revisit an era where Nato looked a lot different than it does today.”

Kadri Liik, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said the approaches followed by the US and Russia were fundamentally incompatible, with the US seeking to reduce the talks to technical arms control issues while Russia wanted to use them to redefine Europe’s whole security order.

“In Moscow’s view, the arms control agreements should follow the logic of the newly agreed order, not substitute for it,” Liik said.

Whatever the outcome of this week’s diplomacy, she predicted it would “likely shape Europe’s strategic landscape for many years to come”.