War fears continue to grow as about 3,000 Russian troops have started military drills close to Ukraine on Tuesday. It comes only a day after the US urged the Kremlin to pull back an estimated 100,000 troops from near the border.
The combat training, including mock battles in four regions of southwestern Russia, suggests Moscow has no intention of backing down.
Increasing tensions throughout the last half a year led to Washington joining the negotiating table in Geneva on Monday.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman discussed key security issues that left an alarming prospect of conflict for the near future hanging over Europe.
The Kremlin remained persistent in its pursuit of security guarantees from the West.
As has become common for Vladimir Putin‘s government, Moscow insisted it wants NATO to commit to limiting its presence in Ukraine, which is not part of the security alliance.
It views Kiev’s tight relations with NATO members as a threat and does not want the country to join the alliance.
NATO promised as far back as 2008 to admit Ukraine one day.
While NATO has no immediate plans to admit Ukraine, it says Moscow cannot dictate its relations with other sovereign states.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, aware of this, stated: “Russia does not have the right to vote on Ukraine’s NATO membership. This is a red line that neither Ukraine nor our partners will cross.
“No matter how many times Russian diplomats go around in circles, the starting line for discussing security guarantees in the Euro-Atlantic space should begin with Russia’s de-escalation of the security situation near the Ukrainian border and Russia’s withdrawal from Donbass and Crimea.”
US President Joe Biden warned Mr Putin in two virtual summits last month he was ready to apply unprecedented sanctions in the shape of severe economic costs in case of new Russian aggression.
Mr Putin, defiant, replied such moves would be a massive mistake and result in a full rupture in relation.
Mr Ryabkov said after Monday’s talks with Ms Sherman: “For us, it’s absolutely mandatory to make sure that Ukraine never, never, ever becomes a member of NATO.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said there was no real cause for optimism even though talks had been open and straightforward.
He claimed: “There are no clear deadlines here, no one is setting them – there is just the Russian position that we will not be satisfied with the endless dragging out of this process.”
Two further conversations are scheduled for this week – one between Russia and NATO in Brussels on Wednesday; one at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Vienna on Thursday.
Mr Peskov hoped for more clarity after those, while Ms Sherman said: “We were firm… in pushing back on security proposals that are simply non-starters to the United States.”