Top diplomats from Russia and the United States traded aggressive statements ahead of upcoming talks in Geneva on Sunday as the issue of a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine hangs over all other topics.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken was on ABC’s This Week speaking about the response the Biden administration would issue in the event of a conflict between Russia and Ukraine, and warned that economic sanctions against Russian officials would be “severe”.
“President Biden has been clear that we are looking at taking steps that we have not taken in the past,” he said. “[T]he consequences for Russia [for invading Ukraine] would be severe. And that’s something that President Putin’s going to have to factor in to his calculus. Again, our strong preference is a diplomatic resolution of this challenge. But ultimately, that’s up to Russia.”
His comments came as Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was reported by Reuters, citing a Russian news agency, to have implied that Russian diplomats could return to Moscow after just one meeting with their US counterparts if the negotiations were judged to be unproductive.
“I can’t rule out anything, this is an entirely possible scenario and the Americans… should have no illusions about this,” said Mr Ryabkov, according to Reuters.
“Naturally, we will not make any concessions under pressure and in the course of threats that are constantly being formed by the Western participants of the upcoming talks,” he added.
The US and Russia have been at odds for months over a buildup of Russian military forces near its border with Ukraine, a development which eastern European political watchers have warned is a likely pretext for a second Russian invasion of Ukraine. Moscow’s forces previously took control of the region of Crimea and annexed it in 2014 amid pro-Russian demonstrations in the region.
Relations between Moscow and Washington were already sour for a host of other issues before the most recent tensions, which Russia has blamed on the West, entered the forefront. Mr Putin has long denied US accusations that his nation’s operatives meddled in the 2016 presidential election, despite the US intelligence community asserting otherwise.
Russia maintains that the buildup of troops along the border with Ukraine is merely a response to posturing from NATO, the US-backed alliance which Ukraine’s government led by Volodymyr Zelensky has indicated interest in joining; Moscow has demanded that NATO’s membership remain as it is, fearing the deployment of weaponry along its border.
The Biden administration and other officials from NATO countries have expressed lukewarm support for Ukraine’s admittance into NATO, which would infuriate Russia, while calling for Ukraine to meet anti-corruption standards before it joins the alliance.