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U.S. President Joe Biden, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
U.S. President Joe Biden, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Christian Petersen, Getty Images/TNS)

MOSCOW (Tribune News Service) — Russia wants to see results from high-stakes talks with the U.S. and its allies over security in Europe in as little as a matter of weeks, despite the seemingly wide gap that currently divides the parties, Moscow’s top negotiator said.

“The president said the result is needed immediately and that’s not a figure of speech,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Wednesday in a telephone interview ahead of meetings with the U.S. set for Jan. 9-10 in Geneva. “We can’t even talk about months here, let alone years,” he added, declining to specify a deadline.

The U.S. agreed to the talks after Russia built up thousands of tanks and troops near the border with Ukraine, stoking western fears of an invasion. President Vladimir Putin demanded NATO give binding assurances that it would stop eastward expansion and undertake a sweeping pullback from Russia’s borders, terms that the U.S. and its allies have already said are unacceptable.

“I hope this is just a negotiating tactic,” Ryabkov said of the tough public stance of the U.S.

He said he hopes to gauge the prospects for continued diplomacy based on “the extent to which our American colleagues are receptive to our demands” at the talks next week.

“I need to hear what they want to choose” from what Russia is seeking, he said. “But that doesn’t mean I will agree with their choice.”

A key indicator of western seriousness will be whether senior U.S. military officials join the delegation, he said, as Moscow is sending top military representatives. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman leads the U.S. delegation. Talks with NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe are set for Jan. 11 and 13.

In Washington on Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Russia’s troop buildup an “immediate and urgent challenge” to European stability during a press conference with German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbrock. Blinken added that it would “certainly be difficult to see” the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany become operational if Russia invades.

“Russian action carries a clear price tag,” Baerbock said.

Ryabkov said Russia’s key demands — no further expansion of NATO in the east and an end to what Moscow claims is a buildup of alliance military infrastructure near its borders — have so far met the most resistance from the U.S. and its allies.

Ryabkov said it would be “counterproductive” to specify what Russia would do in the event the talks are a failure. Putin has threatened an unspecified military response, potentially including deployment of new weapons near Russia’s western borders. “This is the way to a new missile crisis in Europe,” Ryabkov said.

For all of Moscow’s tough rhetoric that its demands are not open to negotiation, the Kremlin understands that concessions will have to be made, according to Alexei Makarkin, deputy director of the Center for Political Technologies in Moscow.

The draft agreements Russia published last month embodying its demands “aren’t an ultimatum but a demonstrative opening position, with the understanding that while they probably won’t get everything, if they don’t start with this kind of offer, they won’t get anything at all,” he said.

“Russia is much more pragmatic here than it seems,” he added.

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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