The US-Russia match on Ukraine, disarmament, security is underway. Confrontation in Geneva

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The stakes are very high: the talks underway in Geneva between Russians and Americans have little time to establish whether there are sufficient bases to attempt a rapprochement on the Ukrainian question and security in Europe, or if the distances – already defined by many as unbridgeable – are such as to make any effort useless. Also because the first of this week’s appointments – the bilateral confrontation between the delegations led by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergej Ryabkov for Moscow and by Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman for Washington – is the most direct. The agenda then plans to broaden the debate to NATO – on 12 January in Brussels – and the day after the OSCE, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, an organization based in Vienna and which also includes the same Russia and Ukraine.

After the first statements by Ryabkov, who met Sherman for a working dinner on Sunday evening, optimism does not prevail at the US diplomatic mission in Geneva where the talks are underway. “I don’t think we will see any progress this week,” said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, interviewed by CNN on Sunday. But according to Ryabkov, who had defined the start of the negotiations as “complex” but “concrete”, the chances of diplomacy could run out even at the first meeting.

Showdown in Donbass?

“We will listen to Russia’s concerns and share ours,” Wendy Sherman tweeted. After mobilizing forces at the borders of Ukraine that Western intelligence calculated at 100,000 men, saying it was alarmed by the strengthening of the Ukrainian military force and by what it considers a creeping and aggressive expansion of NATO towards its own borders, in mid-December Moscow has put down its demands. By making them public, in spite of the American will, and by sounding alarms on the risk of “provocations” by Kiev in the Donbass occupied by the pro-Russian separatists of Donetsk and Luhansk. Warnings that the United States and the European Union read as a threat of invasion, or in any case of a coup in the Donbass eight years after the annexation of Crimea to the Russian Federation.

Among its “red lines”, the Kremlin has included the renunciation by NATO of any further advance towards the East, but above all the conclusion of all activities of the Atlantic Alliance in the countries of Eastern Europe: which became members of NATO after 1997 , despite – repeats Vladimir Putin – of the assurances that this would not happen.

“Let common sense prevail”

The written guarantees requested by Moscow, and the veto on Ukraine’s entry into NATO is the first of the points on which the United States and European countries see no possibility of compromise. But following two telephone contacts between Putin and American President Joe Biden, the American administration confirmed its willingness to accept the challenge: by raising the scope of its requests so much, Moscow made it difficult for the other party to refuse that would have closed definitively every possibility of agreement, and paved the way for a new era of sanctions. It is a question of seeing if the dialogue will give rise to possibilities that now seem impossible: we will not resolve all the issues in a week, agrees the NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, but we can find the way to avert a conflict: “Agree a series of meetings, a path”.

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