Blinken and Lavrov want to continue diplomatic efforts in the Ukraine conflict. This is the good news from Friday after the talks between the US and Russian foreign ministers in Geneva. However, the Ukraine-Russia crisis is by no means resolved. Both sides continue to upgrade. Now a new intermediary has come into play.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Russian colleague Sergey Lavrov have agreed to continue diplomatic efforts in the Ukraine crisis. Blinken did not rule out an exchange between US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Geneva meeting on Friday. The US government will submit “ideas” in writing to Moscow next week to resolve the crisis.
Washington is ready for a renewed talk between Biden and Putin if both sides conclude that this is “the best way to resolve things,” Blinken said. The two heads of state last spoke on the phone about the Ukraine crisis at the end of December. Blinken described the meeting with Lavrov as a “frank” conversation without “polemics”, but again warned against a Russian invasion of Ukraine: This would entail a “joint, rapid and serious” response, he said.
Shaking heads in Romania and Bulgaria
After the meeting, Lavrov also spoke of an “open” exchange. Both sides agree on the need for a “reasonable dialogue”. He hopes that “tempers will now calm down,” said the Russian Foreign Minister.
Immediately before the meeting, the Russian government had confirmed its demands on the West: NATO should withdraw its foreign soldiers and “equipment and weapons” from all countries that were not part of the defense alliance until 1997, the Foreign Ministry in Moscow said. The ministry also explicitly named the EU and NATO members Romania and Bulgaria.
The Romanian government dismissed the demands as “unacceptable”. Bulgarian President Rumen Radev said in a written statement on Friday that Russia’s demand for the withdrawal of NATO forces was “unacceptable and groundless”. There are no permanently stationed contingents and combat technology of the Alliance in Bulgaria. “Our country does not accept ultimatums from anyone,” Radev said.
I can’t tell if we’re on the right track or not
Russian Foreign Minister
Moscow is also demanding a written renunciation of further eastward expansion from NATO. The defense alliance rejects this. “We expect to be able to communicate our concerns and ideas to Russia in more detail in writing over the next week,” Blinken said on Friday.
Referring to the announced US proposals, Lavrov said: “I cannot say whether we are on the right track or not. We will know when we get an answer.” However, he described a discussion about a summit between Putin and Biden as “premature”.
Because of the massive Russian troop deployment on the border with Ukraine, the West fears that Russia is preparing to invade the neighboring country. Blinken called on Moscow to withdraw its troops from the renewed Ukrainian border. “If Russia wants to convince the world that it has no aggressive intentions towards Ukraine, de-escalation and withdrawal of forces on the Ukrainian border would be a very good start,” he said.
The US intelligence services have recently warned that a Russian invasion could be preceded by a targeted “false flag” intervention by Russia in Ukraine. Lavrov said on Friday that Russia had “never” threatened the “Ukrainian people”.
Pro-Russian separatists have been fighting the Ukrainian army in eastern Ukraine since 2014. The West accuses Moscow of providing military support to the separatists, which the Kremlin denies. More than 13,000 people have been killed in the conflict.
The Czech military intelligence service said on Friday that Russia had recently increased its arms deliveries to the self-proclaimed People’s Republics of Luhansk and Donetsk. Moscow supplies the separatists with tanks, artillery systems, ammunition and fuel, among other things. Meanwhile, MPs in the Russian parliament are presenting a bill recognizing the independence of the “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk. This would serve the “security of our citizens and compatriots,” said the speaker of the lower house, Vyacheslav Volodin, on Friday.
Little love for Erdogan’s offer
Also on Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – again – offered to mediate. He will soon travel to Ukraine, Erdogan said. “In the meantime, there could be a phone call with Mr. Putin, or I could visit Moscow.”
Erdogan had already acted as a mediator in the Ukraine conflict in the past, but the Kremlin has always reacted cautiously. Turkey is an important ally of Kiev and has several arms deals with the Czech government. Above all, the deliveries of Turkish combat drones worried Moscow. At the end of October last year, Ukraine used such a TB2 drone for the first time to shoot down the first device on occupied property in the east of the country. Ankara supports Ukraine’s fight to join NATO.
Russia and Turkey have recently faced each other in several conflicts. In Syria, both states are fighting each other in the Idlib region, but patrol together in the north-west of the country. Moscow and Ankara also took different positions in the Libyan conflict. And in the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, Ankara supported Baku with TB2 drones and Turkish officers to pilot them. It was the first time that a foreign power openly intervened in a war on the territory of the former Soviet republic. Despite this, Erdogan and Putin maintain close relations with the outside world. On Thursday, Erdogan highlighted his “cordial relations with both Ukraine and Russia.” On Friday he reiterated: “We want peace to prevail in our region and we are ready to do anything to achieve that.”
The Netherlands, meanwhile, are considering supplying defense weapons to Ukraine. According to a report by the ANP news agency, Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra said on Thursday evening in Parliament in The Hague that a request from the country would be favorably examined. Ukraine asked for military aid on Thursday. A majority in Parliament supports the report on deliveries. Germany, which was also asked to supply arms, refused them. Britain has already flown anti-tank missiles to Ukraine.
Blinken also announced on Friday after his meeting with Lavrov that his government would not wait for Russia’s next steps and only then react. Blinken said more military aid would be delivered to Ukraine in the coming weeks.