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US threatens Russia with ‘financial sanctions’ and other 'costs' over Ukraine after Geneva talks

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov attend security talks at the United States Mission in Geneva, Switzerland on January 10, 2022. (Reuters photo)

The US State Department has said the US and Russia have a better understanding of each other's concerns following a meeting between the two sides in the Swiss city of Geneva, but again threatened Moscow with “financial sanctions” and other “costs” if it launches any military action in neighboring Ukraine.

US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman on Monday spoke with reporters after the conclusion of eight hours of talks with Russian officials in Geneva.

“If Russia stays at the table and takes concrete steps to deescalate tensions, we believe we can achieve progress,” said Sherman, the number two diplomat in the State Department.

She reiterated potential actions that Washington and its allies are prepared to take if Russia launches an invasion, despite the fact that Moscow has rejected Washington’s allegations of preparing to invade the neighboring country. 

“Those costs will include financial sanctions, and it's been reported those sanctions will include key financial institutions, export controls that target industries; enhancements of NATO force posture on ally territory; and increased security assistance to Ukraine,” Sherman said.

The negotiations started after Sherman and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov opened their meeting at the US diplomatic mission in Geneva at 8:55 a.m. local time (0755 GMT) on Monday.

The talks, held after a weeks-long standoff over Russian troop deployments near its border with Ukraine, focused on a wide-ranging new security arrangement that Moscow is seeking with the West over NATO’s eastward expansion and Ukraine's membership in the US-led military alliance.

The two diplomats had already met informally on Sunday evening, with Ryabkov telling Russian news agencies that the first meeting had been “difficult.” Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti quoted Ryabkov as saying on Monday that he feared Washington was not taking seriously Moscow's demand of an end to NATO's eastward expansion.

"Unfortunately we have a great disparity in our principled approaches to this. The U.S. and Russia in some ways have opposite views on what needs to be done," Ryabkov told reporters on Monday. 

Sherman said, “The United States came to today's extraordinary meeting prepared to hear Russia's security concerns and to share our own."

In addition, Sherman said the US said it is open to discussing the future of certain missile systems in Europe and related to the former Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which former US President Donald Trump withdrew from in 2018. 

“The Russians addressed the concerns that we had that led to the ultimate demise of the INF Treaty,” Sherman said.

Sherman said, "We were firm ... in pushing back on security proposals that are simply non-starters to the United States."

Ahead of the talks on Monday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned Russia of "severe costs" if it launched an attack on Ukraine. "We need to send a very clear message to Russia, that we are united and that there will be severe costs — economic, political costs — for Russia if they once again use military force against Ukraine." Reiterating NATO’s support for Ukraine, Stoltenberg said he did not expect the talks to "solve all the issues," but expressed hope that the negotiations could pave the way for a diplomatic solution.

“We are aiming for an agreement on a way forward, a process, a series of meetings," he said. “We are working hard for a peaceful political path and we are ready to continue to work with Russia to try to find that path towards a peaceful solution.”

The Russian government last month made demands on NATO and Ukraine about the future of their relationship. Moscow demanded the Western military alliance deny Ukraine membership to NATO and to roll back its military deployments.

Moscow also proposed that the US not establish any military bases in former Soviet states that are not part of NATO, nor develop a bilateral military alliance with them.

Russia: 'We do not trust the other side'

Ryabkov on Monday repeated Russian demands including a ban on further NATO expansion and an end to the alliance's activity in the central and eastern European countries that joined it after 1997, according to Reuters

"We underscore that for us it’s absolutely mandatory to make sure that Ukraine never, never, ever becomes a member of NATO," he said.

"We do not trust the other side, so to say. We need iron-clad, waterproof, bulletproof, legally binding guarantees. Not assurances, not safeguards, guarantees with all the words 'shall, must', everything that should be put in, 'never ever becoming a member of NATO'. It’s a matter of Russia’s national security."

Sherman said, "We will not allow anyone to slam closed NATO's open-door policy, which has always been central to the NATO alliance."

"We will not forego bilateral cooperation with sovereign states that wish to work with the United States, and we will not make decisions about Ukraine without Ukraine, about Europe without Europe, or about NATO without NATO," she added. 

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