Diplomats from Russia and the United States are to hold crucial talks as a weeks-long standoff over Ukraine teeters on the cusp of a pivotal and potentially violent phase, with rising concerns that Europe may again be beset by war.
The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, and Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, will meet in Geneva – once a key cold war crossroads – in an attempt to avert a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine amid Moscow’s demands for concessions from Nato over its relationship with the former Soviet republic.
On Friday morning, Russia appeared to toughen its stance ahead of the day’s talks. Its foreign ministry said Moscow was seeking guarantees from the west that included provisions requiring Nato forces to leave Romania and Bulgaria, countries that joined in 1997.
Blinken on Thursday played down any prospects of an immediate fix in the Geneva talks, which are set to run for about two hours, saying any resolution to the difficult issues involved “won’t happen quickly” and was certainly not expected by Friday.
Washington and its allies have repeatedly promised “severe” consequences such as biting economic sanctions – though not military action – against Russia if an invasion were to go ahead by the 100,000 Russian troops who have been positioned near the Ukrainian border for weeks.
On Thursday, Liz Truss, the UK foreign secretary, warned Russia that any invasion of Ukraine would only lead to a disaster on the scale of the Soviet-Afghan war.
She urged Vladimir Putin to “desist and step back from Ukraine before he makes a massive strategic mistake”. The Kremlin, she said, “has not learned the lessons of history” and an “invasion will only lead to a terrible quagmire and loss of life, as we know from the Soviet-Afghan war and conflict in Chechnya.”
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report