Russia, US still at odds after security talks in Geneva

US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman (left) and Russian deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov (right) attend security talks at the United States Mission at the United States Mission in Geneva, Switzerland on Jan 10, 2022. (DENIS BALIBOUSE / POOL VIA AP)

MOSCOW – A new round of security talks between Russia and the United States concluded Monday in Geneva, with the two sides showing no sign of narrowing differences on Ukraine and other security issues.

Analysts believe that Russia is willing to establish a longer-term security cooperation framework with Western countries led by the United States, while America has failed to respond to Russia's security concerns.

They forecast dim prospects for a breakthrough in talks as the two countries' values and strategic goals diverge.

Hard to reach consensus

"The talks were difficult, long, very professional, deep, concrete, without attempts to gloss over some sharp edges," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, who headed the Russian delegation, said after the talks.

We need ironclad, waterproof, bulletproof, legally binding guarantees – not assurances, not safeguards.

Sergei Ryabkov, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister

However, he added that the main questions "are still up in the air, and we don't see an understanding from the American side of the necessity of a decision in a way that satisfies us."

Russia has repeatedly voiced concern over the eastward expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the alliance's deployment of weapons systems near the country's borders.

"We do not trust the other side," he stated. "We need ironclad, waterproof, bulletproof, legally binding guarantees – not assurances, not safeguards."

During the talks, Ryabkov reiterated that Russia seeks legally binding guarantees of NATO's non-expansion, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe.

United States Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman (center) arrives with her delegation for a meeting of the Political and Security Committee at the European Council building in Brussels on Jan 11, 2022. (JOHN THYS / POOL PHOTO VIA AP)

US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, who headed the US delegation, said the US side was firm in "pushing back on security proposals that are simply non-starters to the United States."

Sherman said that the United States will not stop NATO's "Open Door" policy and will not forego bilateral cooperation with sovereign states that wish to work with the United States. Russia's demand for Ukraine to be excluded from future NATO membership was also not accepted.

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US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said that the US will not stop NATO's "Open Door" policy and will not forego bilateral cooperation with sovereign states that wish to work with the US

Recently, the conflict between Russia and NATO led by the United States has intensified over Ukraine. In December, Russia sent two draft documents to the United States and NATO, both regarding security guarantees in Europe.

Ivan Timofeev, director of programs at the Russian International Affairs Council, said it is reasonable to expect no breakthrough in the talks.

"Moscow has clearly and concisely expressed its position," he said, adding that the US side, however, is not ready to consider Russia's concerns.

Fyodor Lukyanov, editor-in-chief of Russia in Global Affairs magazine, pointed out that the two sides were at odds during the talks, as the United States wanted to shift the focus from political issues to military technology, while Russia insisted on resolving political matters first.

"The Russian side believes that there should firstly be a new basic agreement reached at the political level, and then it is possible to carry out specific consultations at the military-technical level," Lukyanov said.

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Prospects not promising

At the end of the year 2021, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart Joe Biden discussed Russia's recent security proposals during their telephone call.

The two leaders agreed on the importance of serious and meaningful dialogue and confirmed that the security talks between Moscow and Washington would be carried out in three formats.

A Ukrainian Military Forces serviceman watches through spyglass on a trench near to Avdiivka, southeastern Ukraine, on Jan 8, 2022. (ANATOLII STEPANOV / AFP)

Analysts pointed out that the dialogue may help stabilize Russia-US relations, but tensions between Russia and the West are likely to continue escalating as the two sides have never been short of contradictions on chronic problems

After the first round of negotiations in Geneva, the dialogue would continue within the framework of the NATO-Russia Council and within the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

It is generally believed that the first round of security talks between Russia and the United States is of paramount importance, which will set the tone for the next two rounds of negotiations.

Analysts pointed out that the dialogue may help stabilize Russia-US relations, but tensions between Russia and the West are likely to continue escalating as the two sides have never been short of contradictions on chronic problems.

Timofeev said that the positions of the parties involved in the talks remain difficult to coordinate, burdening the negotiation process.

The core of Russia's relations with the West is rooted in its relationship with the United States, said Li Yonghui, senior research fellow in the Institute of Russia, Eastern European and Central Asian Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

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If fundamental contradictions between the two countries cannot be resolved through dialogue, tensions in Europe are likely to persist in the foreseeable future, Li said.