Third international meeting with Russia over its potential invasion of Ukraine ended without clear breakthrough

Thursday’s meeting in Vienna at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) concluded a week of intensive engagement that the United States and its NATO allies hoped could spur. Russia to continue on the path of “de-escalation and diplomacy” rather than mobilizing the tens of thousands of Russian troops whose presence has increased along Ukraine’s borders.

However, as a result of the meetings, Russian officials reacted with frustration and impatience, suggesting they were on the verge of abandoning discussions over the US and NATO’s refusal to respond to major Moscow demands. : guarantees that Ukraine will never be allowed to join NATO and that the alliance will slow down its expansion in Eastern Europe. The United States and its NATO allies have repeatedly stated that such proposals from Moscow are unfounded.

“The jury has decided which path Vladimir Putin will choose,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said after the week’s meetings in an interview with MSNBC. “Will he choose the path of diplomacy and dialogue to resolve some of these problems or will he continue with confrontation and aggression?”

The head of the US delegation, Blinken’s deputy Wendy Sherman, told reporters after the NATO talks that the Russians themselves may not yet know what their next decision will be. Throughout this week’s talks, the United States has repeatedly asserted that diplomacy can only take place if Russia defuses itself, which Sherman said on Monday that the United States defined as Russia dismissing its troops in barracks or telling the United States “that the exercises are underway and what their purpose is.” is.”

After Wednesday’s NATO meeting, Sherman said Russia was not committed to any de-escalation.

“I don’t think we need to explain how absolutely unacceptable such demands are and, of course, we won’t even discuss them,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Thursday.

U.S. officials expressed hope that discussions on areas of mutual interest between Russia and the United States – including nuclear weapons, mid-range missiles, and transparency on military exercises – could keep the conversations going. diplomatic. NATO leaders noted that Wednesday was the first time Russia had agreed to a meeting with the alliance in two years and they attended the four-hour meeting, which was longer than expected.

“I think the reality is that I will say that the Russian delegation attended almost four hours of a meeting where 30 nations spoke, and they did, which is not an easy thing to do. do, “she said on Wednesday.

But if it made it seem like Russia was open to compromise positions, Russia quickly poured cold water on it.

“The United States and its NATO allies are not ready to meet Russia halfway on key issues,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Thursday, according to the news agency official TASS. “The main problem is that the United States and its NATO allies, under no circumstances, for whatever reason, are not prepared to meet our major demands.”

Blinken had warned ahead of the talks that no breakthrough was expected this week “in an atmosphere of escalation with a gun pointed at Ukraine’s temple.”

While Russia and NATO seemed to be talking to each other, the language they used illustrated how distant they remained from each other. Russia had proposed specific treaty language in the weeks leading up to the meetings and called them “negotiations” while Sherman replied that no formal term had been put forward in what she called “discussions.”

Sherman said she was unsure whether the Russians had come to the table for the three days of talks in good faith, or as a pretext to try to justify future military action.

“If Russia pulls away, however, it will be quite obvious that they have never been serious in pursuing diplomacy. That is why collectively we are preparing for any eventuality,” she said. note.

CNN’s Anna Chernova, Zahra Ullah and Mick Krever contributed to this reporting.

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