© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov speaks during a news conference in Moscow, Russia February 7, 2019. REUTERS

MOSCOW/WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Russia said on Sunday it would not make concessions under U.S. pressure and warned that this week’s talks on the Ukraine crisis might end early, while Washington said no breakthroughs were expected and progress depended on de-escalation from Moscow.

The hard line from Moscow underscored the fragile prospects for negotiations that Washington hopes will avert the danger of a new Russian invasion of Ukraine, at the tensest point in U.S.-Russia relations since the Cold War ended three decades ago.

Talks begin on Monday in Geneva before moving to Brussels and Vienna, but the state-owned RIA news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying it was entirely possible the diplomacy could end after a single meeting.

U.S., Russia signal pessimism ahead of Ukraine talks

“I can’t rule out anything, this is an entirely possible scenario and the Americans … should have no illusions about this,” he was quoted as saying.

“Naturally, we will not make any concessions under pressure” or amid constant threats from participants in the talks, said Ryabkov, who will lead the Russian delegation in Geneva.

Moscow was not optimistic going into the talks, Interfax news agency quoted Ryabkov as saying.

The U.S. prognosis was similarly gloomy.

“I don’t think we’re going to see any breakthroughs in the coming week,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a CNN interview.

In response to Russian demands for Western security guarantees, the United States and allies have said they are prepared to discuss the possibility of each side restricting military exercises and missile deployments in the region.

Both sides will put proposals on the table and then see if there are grounds for moving forward, Blinken said.

“To make actual progress, it’s very hard to see that happening when there’s an ongoing escalation, when Russia has a gun to the head of Ukraine with 100,000 troops near its borders,” Blinken said in an interview with ABC News.

Ahead of the formal talks, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman met with Ryabkov on Sunday in Geneva and told him Washington “would welcome genuine progress through diplomacy,” the State Department said.

Ryabkov told reporters his meeting with Sherman had been “complex but businesslike,” Russian new agency Interfax said.

Tens of thousands of Russian troops are gathered within reach of the border with Ukraine in preparation for what Washington and Kyiv say could be an invasion, eight years after Russia seized the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine.

The comments from Russia’s Ryabkov, who has compared the situation to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis when the world stood on the brink of nuclear war, were consistent with the uncompromising line Russia has been signalling for weeks.

Russia denies invasion plans and said it is responding to what it calls aggressive and provocative behavior from the NATO military alliance and Ukraine, which has tilted toward the West and aspires to join NATO.

Further complicating the picture, Russia sent troops into neighboring Kazakhstan last week after the oil-producing former Soviet republic was hit by a wave of unrest. Russia’s foreign ministry reacted furiously https://www.reuters.com/world/russia-reacts-furiously-blinken-jibe-over-troops-kazakhstan-2022-01-08 on Saturday to a jibe by Blinken that “once Russians are in your house, it’s sometimes very difficult to get them to leave.”

RED LINES

Last month, Russia presented a sweeping set of demands including for a ban on further NATO expansion and an end to the alliance’s activity in central and eastern European countries that joined it after 1997.

The United States and NATO have dismissed large parts of the Russian proposals as non-starters.

The United States was not willing to discuss pulling some U.S. troops out of eastern Europe or rule out expanding NATO to include Ukraine, Blinken said.

To abandon its demands for a more-limited agenda would be a major climb-down that Russia seems unlikely to make, especially after weeks of troop movements near Ukraine and a series of tough statements from President Vladimir Putin.

The Kremlin leader has said that after successive waves of NATO expansion it is time for Russia to enforce its “red lines” and ensure the alliance does not admit Ukraine or station weapons systems there that would target Russia.

Ukraine won a NATO promise in 2008 that it would be allowed to join one day, but diplomats say there is no question of that happening any time soon.

NATO said it is a defensive alliance and Moscow has nothing to fear from it. That is far from Putin’s world view, which sees Russia as under threat from hostile Western powers he says have repeatedly broken promises given as the Cold War ended not to expand toward its borders. The United States and its allies dispute such pledges were given.

In two conversations over the past five weeks, U.S. President Joe Biden warned Putin that Russia would face unprecedented economic sanctions in the event of further aggression against Ukraine. The Group of Seven nations and the European Union have joined in threatening “massive consequences.”

Putin said that would be a colossal mistake that would lead to a complete rupture of relations.

In addition to the Geneva talks, Russia is also due to hold negotiations with NATO in Brussels on Wednesday and at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Vienna on Thursday.

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India boosts military presence as
border talks with China remain stalled


On volatile border between India and China, a high-altitude military buildup is underway

0003

A close-up of a heliport under construction in Rutog County.

0001

On volatile border between India and China, a high-altitude military buildup is underway

0004

Construction crews are now scattered around Ladakh as Indian authorities speed up their infrastructure race with China.

0005

An overview of a heliport under construction near Aksai Chin Lake, in a region administered by China but contested by India, on May 28.

0002

An overview of a heliport under construction in Rutog County in the Ngari Prefecture of the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, on Nov. 28.

0003 0001 0004 0005 0002

BEIJING’S ISLAND-BUILDING IN THE SOUTH CHINA SEA

Runway

Runway

China is expanding the construction of its facilities on Fiery Cross Reef. Provided by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), this June 28, 2015 photo reveals Beijing has nearly completed a 3,000 meter (9,800-foot) airstrip, long enough to accommodate most Chinese military aircraft. Two h...

Expansion

Expansion

Reclamation on Fiery Cross Reef, which lies on the west side of the Spratly Islands, began in August of 2014 and its principal landmass was finished by November. Dredgers have created a land mass that spans the entire existing reef and is approximately 3,000 meters long and 200-300 meters wide.

Facilities

Facilities

This picture taken last November shows construction work being carried out on Fiery Cross Reef. The reef reportedly already houses a helicopter landing pad, a 300-meter-long wharf, a harbor large enough to dock military tankers, barracks and artillery emplacements.

South Johnson Reef

South Johnson Reef

This reef was one of the first facilities to finish principal land reclamation. This recent picture shows that a radar tower is nearing completion at the north end of the land mass. According to AMTI, a new large multi-level military facility has been built in the center of the island. Up to six sur...

A naval base?

A naval base?

Beginning in early 2015, Mischief Reef - also located in the Spratlys - has undergone extensive reclamation activity. Experts say that the recent widening of the southern entrance to the reef, coupled with sightings of Chinese navy vessels, may suggest a future role for the reclaimed reef as a naval...

From reef to island

From reef to island

Significant construction on Gaven Reef began in 2014, with a total of 114,000 square meters of land already created. Satellite pictures show just how fast construction has progressed on the reef. A new artificial island was created between March (left) and August (right) 2014.

Troop garrison

Troop garrison

According to AMTI, China has had a troop garrison on Gaven Reef since 2003, which has included a large supply platform where ships can dock. Experts say a new main square building in the reef appears to be an anti-aircraft tower.

A standardized process

A standardized process

As seen in this image, the basic process of expanding these features involves dredging sand from the seafloor and dumping it onto the reefs. The structure is raised above the high water line, hiding the status of the bank or reef beneath. The sand is then smoothed out and workers surround the island...

'Historic rights'

'Historic rights'

China claims most of the potentially energy-rich waterway, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The US Pacific Fleet commander recently said China was "creating a great wall of sand" in the South China Sea, causing serious concerns about its territorial intentions. Beijin...

Territorial disputes

Territorial disputes

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims, which have led to territorial disputes in the area. Last summer, China's deployment of a massive oil rig in waters also claimed by Hanoi escalated tensions in the region, sparking a standoff at sea and violent anti-C...

US concerns

US concerns

Washington is concerned China's efforts carry a military dimension that could undermine the US' naval and economic power in the Pacific, and has weighed sending warships and surveillance aircraft within 12 nautical miles of the new artificial islands. Washington has repeatedly called on Beijing and ...

Ecological impact

Ecological impact

The Philippines filed a formal plea at the UN last year, challenging Beijing's territorial claims. Manila said China's reclamation activities are causing "irreversible and widespread damage to the biodiversity and ecological balance of the South China Sea." It also claimed that the destruction of co...

Runway Expansion Facilities South Johnson Reef A naval base? From reef to island Troop garrison A standardized process 'Historic rights' Territorial disputes US concerns Ecological impact

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