Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva Friday as part of an effort to seek diplomacy and avoid a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
These were the latest in a series of high-level talks between the two countries in recent weeks to address Russia’s move to amass roughly 100,000 troops along its border with Ukraine.
Heading into the talks, both men said they did not expect a “breakthrough” in negotiations, and it appears that neither side has moved on its stance.
But following the 90-minute meeting Blinken described the exchange as “candid” and “useful.”
“I believe that Foreign Minister Lavrov now has a better understanding of our position and vice versa,” Blinken said. “Today’s discussion was useful in that sense, and that’s precisely why we met.”
Russia denies that it intends to invade Ukraine but has issued a list of demands that include NATO agreeing to never accept Ukraine as a member.
Lavrov said at the meeting Russia expected “concrete answers to our concrete proposals” adding that “no one single country should be able to strengthen its security on the account of another country.”
Lavrov later called the talks “constructive and useful” and said the United States agreed to provide written responses to Russian demands on Ukraine and NATO next week.
The United States has maintained that while it’s not likely that Ukraine will join NATO in the near future, the decision of whether it does so should rest solely between Ukraine and NATO member states.
Blinken says he reiterated that stance to Lavrov in the meeting.
“I made clear to Minister Lavrov that there are certain issues and fundamental principles that the United States and our partners and allies are committed to defend,” Blinken said. “That includes those that would impede the sovereign right of the Ukrainian people to write their own future. There is no trade space there. None.”
U.S. officials have been working to secure a united front among its allies in Europe to pose the threat of sanctions if Russia moves to invade. Blinken met ministers from the UK, France, and Germany in Berlin on Jan. 20 ahead of his meeting with Lavrov.
Blinken reiterated Friday the U.S. stance that it’s entirely up to Russia to pursue either a path of diplomacy or one of “severe” consequences.
“So that’s the choice that Russia faces now, it can choose the path of diplomacy that can lead to peace and security, or the path that will lead only to conflict, severe consequences, and international condemnation,” Blinken said. “The United States and our allies and partners in Europe stand ready to meet Russia on either path.
The State Department has put out recent statements accusing Russia of spreading “disinformation” meant to destabilize Ukraine.
It also announced sanctions on four individuals connected to “ongoing Russian intelligence service-directed influence activities.”
Lavrov seemed to dismiss the documents when he said, “I do hope that not everyone in the State Department was working on those materials and there were some who were working on the essence of our proposals and their substance.”
Russia seized control of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula in 2014 and Ukraine’s Donbas region has since seen violence that has taken more than 14,000 lives. The region is now under de facto control by Russia-backed separatists.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.