The United States and Russia have begun negotiations in Geneva, Switzerland meant to ease tensions over Ukraine.
But the two sides have issued pessimistic statements about the talks.
The talks between Deputy U.S. Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov began Monday at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Geneva.
The talks are taking place while U.S.-Russia relations are at their most tense since the Cold War ended 30 years ago.
The Russian diplomatic mission in Geneva said on the social media service Twitter: "The talks promise to be long and substantial."
Sherman said, "The U.S. will listen to Russia's concerns and share our own" in an earlier tweet from Geneva. The U.S. diplomat added that no discussions on European security would be held without other allies. Discussions will move to meetings in Brussels and Vienna later this week.
Nearly 100,000 Russian troops have gathered within reach of the border with Ukraine. The U.S. and Ukraine are concerned about a possible invasion. Eight years ago, Russia seized the Crimea Peninsula from the former Soviet republic.
Russia denies invasion plans. The country’s officials have said Russia is answering, what it calls, aggressive behavior from the NATO military alliance and Ukraine. Ukraine is friendly with the West and aspires to join NATO.
Last month, Russia presented major security demands to the United States and its allies. Russia wants a ban on further NATO expansion. It also wants an end to the alliance's activity in Central and Eastern European countries that joined it after 1997.
The United States and NATO allies have said large parts of the Russian proposals are nonstarters.
“We need legal guarantees”
Ryabkov told R.I.A. news agency that Russia would not accept U.S. attempts to limit the talks to discussion of military exercises and missile deployments. Those are the issues that the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden is willing to discuss.
Ryabkov said: "We need legal guarantees of the non-expansion of NATO and the elimination of everything that the alliance has created since 1997."
Russia had tried to show flexibility for the past 30 years and it was time for the other side to be flexible, he said. "If they are unable to do this, they will face a worsening situation in their own security."
The two sides also disagree over Russia's deployment of troops in Kazakhstan after an uprising there last week. Another issue of concern is Russia’s support for Belarus in a migrant crisis on the EU's border. And U.S. officials are also concerned about Russia's supplying of gas to Europe. U.S. officials worry it is a way for Russia to gain political power over its neighbors.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg will meet the Russian team on Wednesday in Brussels. He said Russia and the West could find a pathway to avoid conflict.
"What we are hoping for is that we can agree on a way forward, that we can agree on a series of meetings, that we can agree on a process," Stoltenberg said.
Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Olga Stefanishyna appeared with Stoltenberg. She said Russia should not set conditions while its tanks remained near the Ukrainian border.
“Ukraine must be present”
On the streets of Kyiv, people questioned why their country was not involved directly in the talks.
"I think it should not be this way," said a 59-year-old man who gave his name as Oleh. "Ukraine must be present during those meetings because it is a more interested party than other countries...Ukraine must be sitting in the first row."
Russia has rejected Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskiy as a viable negotiating partner. However, the United States and other western governments have said they fully support Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial rights.
Ukraine is not a NATO member. It cannot expect alliance members to defend it. But Biden has repeatedly warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that the United States and European allies would impose strong punishments if Russia chose to invade Ukraine. Putin has said new restrictions could lead to a "complete breakdown in ties."
I’m Mario Ritter Jr.
Emma Farge reported this story for Reuters. Mario Ritter Jr. adapted it for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
pessimistic –adj. having or showing a lack of hope for the future; expecting bad things to happen
aspire –v. to want to reach a goal, to have or gain something
nonstarter –n. something that will not be effective or successful
elimination –n. the removal of something
flexibility –n. willing to change or to try something different
row –n. a line of seats in a theater (front row, first row: the first line of seats in a theater nearest the performance)
sovereignty –n. a country’s independent authority and right to govern itself
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