US and Russia try to lower temperature as Ukraine tensions simmer

The United States and Russia have sought to lower the temperature in a heated standoff over Ukraine during high-level talks in Geneva but reported no breakthroughs as a result of the discussions.

Armed with seemingly intractable and diametrically opposed demands, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met on Friday for roughly 90 minutes at what the former dubbed a “critical moment” in the crisis.

Both sides said they were open to further dialogue following the talks, but put the onus on the other to move first to defuse tensions.

Blinken said the pair’s “frank and substantive” discussions had put Washington and Moscow on “a clearer path to understanding each other’s positions”, adding that Russia, which has massed tens of thousands of troops near Ukraine’s border, now faced a choice.

“It can choose the path of diplomacy that can lead to peace and security, or the path that will lead only to conflict, severe consequences and international condemnation,” he told reporters at a news conference.

“We’ve been clear – if any Russian military forces move across Ukraine’s border, that’s a renewed invasion. It will be met with swift, severe and a united response from the United States and our partners and allies,” Blinken added, citing Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

Lavrov, for his part, said the ball was in Washington’s court as he called on the US to respond to Russia’s sweeping wishlist of security demands, which Moscow argues are essential for its own safety and the wider region’s stability.

Speaking at a separate news conference, he described the meeting with Blinken as open and useful but said the Kremlin would not know whether talks were on the right track until it had received a written response to its proposals from the US, expected to be delivered next week.

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