Live Updates: U.S. and Russia Meet Amid Fears of War in Ukraine

With the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine stirring concern across Europe, the talks in Geneva on Monday marked the start of a week of high-stakes diplomacy.


U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and her Russian counterpart, Sergei A. Ryabkov, at the United States Mission in Geneva on Monday.Credit…Denis Balibouse/Reuters

GENEVA — With the threat of Russian military action in eastern Ukraine stirring concern across Europe, American and Russian officials met on Monday to try and find a diplomatic path to ease tensions and avoid the potential for bloodshed.

The official delegations, led by a Russian deputy foreign minister, Sergei A. Ryabkov, and the American deputy secretary of state, Wendy Sherman, sat down at the U.S. Mission in Geneva just after 9 a.m. local time, the State Department said.

Minutes earlier, the police escorted a convoy of black sedans and silver minibuses carrying Russian officials into the sprawling American diplomatic compound on a hill above Lake Geneva.

The talks — the first in a series of discussions that will take place across Europe this week — revolve around the demands for “security guarantees” from Western powers that the Kremlin made in a remarkable diplomatic offensive late last year.

Monday’s negotiations were expected to take up much of the day, with American and Russian officials scheduled to brief reporters separately afterward, in the early evening.

In December, Russia published a proposal for two agreements with the United States and NATO that would roll back Western military activity in Ukraine and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, in essence re-establishing a sphere of Russian influence in what used to be parts of the Soviet Union.

Many of the proposals appeared to be nonstarters for Western officials, who insist that Cold War-style regions of influence are a relic of the past and that countries should be able to choose their own alliances.

But an ominous Russian military buildup near the country’s border with Ukraine that analysts see as a preparation for a potential invasion has seized the attention of the West; the Biden administration agreed to engage with Russia to try to find some common ground.

On Sunday evening, Ms. Sherman met Mr. Ryabkov for a preliminary, two-hour dinner meeting in a nondescript residential building on the Geneva lakefront. “The deputy secretary affirmed that the United States would welcome genuine progress through diplomacy,” the State Department said in a statement.

Mr. Ryabkov described the dinner meeting as “businesslike” and predicted that Monday’s negotiations would not be a waste of time.

Appearing on Sunday talk shows in the United States, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said the negotiations could possibly revive the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, which banned the deployment, in Europe or in Russia, of medium-range nuclear missiles. Both the Obama and Trump administrations accused Moscow of violating the accord, and the United States left the treaty in 2019.

“There may be ground for renewing that,” Mr. Blinken said on ABC’s “This Week.”

But Russia insists that its demands go well beyond arms control, and involve a wholesale redrawing of the security map in Europe, which the Kremlin claims the West forced upon a weak Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

If Russia does not get what it wants, President Vladimir V. Putin said last month, the Kremlin is prepared to resort to military means to achieve its aims.

A buildup of Russian forces near the border with Ukraine has raised concerns among Western and Ukrainian officials that the Kremlin might be preparing for significant military action, possibly an invasion. This map, compiled by The New York Times, shows troops, tanks and heavy artillery moving into positions that threaten to widen the conflict in Ukraine’s east as well as potentially open a new front on Ukraine’s northern border, closer to the capital, Kyiv.

Russia currently has about 100,000 troops on the Ukraine border, according to Ukrainian and Western officials. U.S. intelligence agencies have assessed that the Kremlin has drawn up plans for a military operation involving up to 175,000 troops that could begin in the coming weeks. While it is not clear whether President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has decided to launch an attack, analysts say the country is well on its way toward constructing the architecture needed for a significant military intervention in Ukraine.

The maps below represent a snapshot of current Russian positions, as well as broad estimates of the number of troops and kinds of equipment deployed within striking distance of Ukraine. It is based on information obtained by Ukrainian and Western officials as well as independent military analysts and satellite imagery.

Russian troops during military exercises in December.Credit…Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration and its allies are assembling a punishing set of financial, technology and military sanctions against Russia that they say would go into effect within hours of an invasion of Ukraine, hoping to make clear to President Vladimir V. Putin the high cost he would pay if he sends troops across the border.

In interviews, officials detailed those plans for the first time, just ahead of a series of diplomatic negotiations to defuse the crisis with Moscow, one of the most perilous moments in Europe since the end of the Cold War. The talks begin on Monday in Geneva and then move across Europe.

The plans the United States has discussed with allies in recent days include cutting off Russia’s largest financial institutions from global transactions, imposing an embargo on American-made or American-designed technology needed for defense-related and consumer industries, and arming insurgents in Ukraine who would conduct what would amount to a guerrilla war against a Russian military occupation.

Such moves are rarely telegraphed in advance. But with the negotiations looming President Biden’s advisers say they are trying to signal to Mr. Putin exactly what he would face, at home and abroad, in hopes of influencing his decisions in coming weeks.

The talks will be led by the deputy secretary of state, Wendy R. Sherman, an experienced diplomat who negotiated the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran. Russian officials are expected to press their demands for “security guarantees,” including prohibiting the deployment of any missiles in Europe that could strike Russia and the placement of weaponry or troops in former Soviet states that joined NATO after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Mr. Putin is also demanding an end to NATO expansion, including a promise that Ukraine could never join the nuclear alliance. While the Biden administration has said it is willing to discuss all Russian security concerns — and has a long list of its own — the demands amount to a dismantling of the security architecture of Europe built after the Soviet Union’s collapse.

On Wednesday, members of the NATO alliance will meet with Russia in Brussels. The next day in Vienna, Ukrainian officials will also be at the table, for the first time, for talks at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. But with 57 members, that group is so large that few expect serious negotiations.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine announced a separate Ukrainian diplomatic initiative with Russia in late December.Credit…John Thys/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

KYIV, Ukraine — As the high-stakes diplomatic negotiations between the United States and Russia over the fate of Ukraine got underway on Monday in Geneva, one player was notably absent: Ukraine.

In fact, Ukraine will be missing from two of the three negotiating sessions scheduled for this week.

The absence of any concrete role for Ukraine in the talks has clearly unnerved the government in Kyiv. Fearing that the talks will yield little or nothing, and with President Biden’s statement that the U.S. would not intervene militarily if Russia invades, Ukraine has quietly pursued its own negotiating track with Moscow.

While the Russian threat is aimed at Ukraine, Russia’s demands for security concessions in Europe, as laid out in two proposed draft treaties, are directed at the U.S. and NATO — and Ukraine has no say over American or NATO deployments in other European countries.

In effect, that makes Ukraine “the hostage” of Russia, said Kostiantyn Yelisieiev, a former Ukrainian ambassador to the European Union.

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has decided not to rely wholly on the U.S.-led negotiations, announcing a separate, Ukrainian diplomatic initiative with Russia in late December, the specifics of which were later published in a Russian newspaper.

The 10-point Ukrainian plan begins with three confidence-building steps — a cease-fire in the war in eastern Ukraine, an exchange of prisoners and the opening of crossing points for civilians on the front line in the eastern Ukraine war — then moves to political issues. The first point, the cease-fire, has already been implemented, though it has also already broken down.

The political matters involve direct talks between Mr. Zelensky and Mr. Putin and a final point, No. 10, under which the Ukrainian government would submit to Parliament laws granting self-rule to separatist areas and devolving some powers to these areas.

In the Russian interpretation, these laws would grant its proxies in eastern Ukraine veto power over foreign policy decisions by the central government, including NATO membership for Ukraine, potentially satisfying enough of Russia’s request to forestall a war. Ukraine and Western governments say the laws leave room for interpretation, and that Mr. Zelensky is unlikely to grant Moscow veto power over future NATO membership.

To date, none of the diplomatic talks with Russia, whether with the United States or Ukraine, have slowed the stream of ominous statements from Russian officials that diplomats and analysts worry could be used to justify military action or prepare the Russian population for a war.

Members of the Ukrainian military’s 25th Airborne Brigade patrolling an area on the outskirts of Avdiivka, in DecemberCredit…Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

For years, the conflict in Ukraine has been a slow, bloody grind that set in after Ukraine and Russia fought to a stalemate over territory seized by Russian-backed forces in 2014.

Fighters have been dug into an ant farm of muddy trenches along the so-called line of contact, a roughly 250-mile-long barricade of fortifications in the in the provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, in eastern Ukraine. On one side are Ukrainian military forces; on the other are Russian-backed separatists.

On the Ground at the Russia-Ukraine Border

Michael Schwirtz?Reporting from the front

On the Ground at the Russia-Ukraine Border

Michael Schwirtz?Reporting from the frontBrendan Hoffman for The New York Times

With the threat of Russian invasion looming, I traveled last week to the front lines of Ukraine’s war with Kremlin-backed separatists.

That’s where I met First Lt. Ivan Skuratovsky, a stoic 30-year-old ->

On the Ground at the Russia-Ukraine Border

Michael Schwirtz?Reporting from the front

Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

“I’ve seen what people are capable of in the 21st century,” the lieutenant told me. When the war began in 2014, he was a gunner on an armored troop transport. Many of the soldiers he fought alongside are dead.

On the Ground at the Russia-Ukraine Border

Michael Schwirtz?Reporting from the front

Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

If Moscow invades Ukraine with overwhelming force, ?Skuratovsky said, he and his fellow soldiers will be unlikely to repel it. But they will fight anyway, he added, “because behind us are our families and friends.”

On the Ground at the Russia-Ukraine Border

Michael Schwirtz?Reporting from the front

Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

Life on the front is arduous. For years, Ukrainian troops have been fighting a grinding war of attrition with Russian backed separatists from an ant farm of muddy trenches in the east. “It is classic trench warfare,” the lieutenant said.

On the Ground at the Russia-Ukraine Border

Michael Schwirtz?Reporting from the front

Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

Machine gun fire and the thud of grenade launchers broke the silence on the night that I visited. Ukrainian soldiers are under strict orders not to return fire unless absolutely necessary. “This really annoys the soldiers,” Skuratovsky said.

On the Ground at the Russia-Ukraine Border

Michael Schwirtz?Reporting from the front

Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

He spoke often of his two young children. He likely won’t see them until April. They give him strength, but he fears what would happen if he didn’t come back. “I’m a human,” he said. “I know I’m not immortal.”

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A 2015 cease-fire between the Ukrainian government and the Russian-backed forces brought an end to the most serious hostilities in a conflict that has cost more than 13,000 lives. But it did not bring peace. In December, when a Times reporter visited, the line of contact regularly crackled with gunfire punctuated with the occasional boom of artillery. A handful of Ukrainian soldiers is killed each month, mostly by sniper fire.

One night in December, members of Ukraine’s 25th Airborne Brigade under the command of Capt. Denis Branitskii returned fire only once. “Just to let them know we’re here,” Captain Branitskii said. The thwomp of a Ukrainian soldier’s grenade launcher silenced the machine gun fire on the other side, but only briefly.

In Moscow earlier this month. Fear of a third world war is the second most common worry held by Russians, according to a recent poll.Credit…Yuri Kochetkov/EPA, via Shutterstock

MOSCOW — While tensions in Ukraine have gripped the West in recent weeks, in Russia the dramatic events in Kazakhstan and a 10-day New Year’s holiday have overshadowed preparations for the latest round of diplomatic talks that kicked off on Monday in Geneva.

State-owned Russia-24 television broadcast a 17-minute long spot on Sunday evening, emphasizing to viewers that Russia “threatens no one.”

Remarkably absent from theprogram: any mention of Russia’s buildup of more than 100,000 troops on its western border with Ukraine — or much discussion of its neighbor at all.

The presenter made an argument often repeated in Russia, that NATO supposedly broke its promise not to expand eastward in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“NATO will no longer be able to push Russia back into secondary roles,,” the deputy foreign minister, Sergei A. Ryabkov, was quoted as saying, adding: “It is time for the alliance to return to the borders of 1997.”

The predominant Russian narrative is disputed by statesmen including former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, who negotiated NATO’s presence following Germany’s unification with former Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

While Mr. Putin has overseen the steady militarization of Russian society, in part by glorifying the Soviet Union’s victory in the Second World War, ordinary Russians are worried about the outbreak of a global conflict.

Fear of a third world war is the second most common worry held by Russians, according to a recent poll by the independent Levada Center. More than 60 percent of respondents said they were “afraid” or “rather afraid” that such a conflict could break out.

Separate research by the same pollster indicates that any potential military gains would not make Mr. Putin more popular: only 32 percent of Russians wanted to see their country as “a great power respected and feared by other countries,” and just 16 percent thought war could bolster Mr. Putin’s authority.

Alina Lobzina contributed reporting.

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