By Trevor Hunnicutt and Andrew Osborn
WASHINGTON/MOSCOW (Reuters) -U.S. and Russian officials will hold security talks on Jan. 10 to discuss concerns about their respective military activity and confront rising tensions over Ukraine, the two countries said.
A spokesperson for U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration announced the date late on Monday, and said Russia and NATO were also likely to hold talks on Jan. 12, with a broader meeting including Moscow, Washington and other European countries set for Jan. 13.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov confirmed those dates on Tuesday and said he hoped the talks with the United States in Geneva would start a process that would give Moscow new security guarantees from the West.
Such guarantees are a longstanding demand of Moscow, which alarmed the West by massing tens of thousands of troops near Ukraine in the past two months following its seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014 and its backing of separatists fighting Kyiv troops in eastern Ukraine.
The European Union demanded a say in any security deal.
“Any discussion about European security must happen in coordination with and participation of EU,” said EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell after talking to British foreign minister Liz Truss.
The Jan. 12 NATO meeting would be held in EU hub Brussels, Ryabkov said, while the Jan. 13 talks would involve the Vienna-based Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which includes the United States and its NATO allies, as well as Russia, Ukraine and other ex-Soviet states.
CONCERNS ON THE TABLE
Russia has denied plans for an assault on Ukraine but says it could take unspecified military action if its security demands are not met.
Moscow, worried by what it says is the West’s re-arming of Ukraine, has said it wants legally-binding guarantees NATO will not expand further eastwards, and that certain offensive weapons will not be deployed to Ukraine or other neighbouring countries.
The U.S. administration has threatened to impose economic sanctions if Russia attacks Ukraine. It says it cannot promise a sovereign state such as Ukraine would never join NATO.
“When we sit down to talk, Russia can put its concerns on the table, and we will put our concerns on the table with Russia’s activities as well,” said the spokesperson for the U.S. National Security Council, who declined to be identified. The spokesperson said no decisions would be made about Ukraine without Ukraine.
A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters the United States would keep the Harry Truman carrier in Europe for now rather than sending it to the Middle East.
The official said there were no plans to move it closer to Ukraine and despite the Russian troop buildup, there was still no U.S. warship in the Black Sea.
Biden on Monday signed into law a spending bill that, among other things, will provide $300 million for an initiative supporting Ukraine’s armed forces and billions more for European defence broadly.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for the separatist uprising in the east of Ukraine resulted in Kyiv losing control of a swath of territory in a conflict it says killed 15,000 people.
Major combat ended with a ceasefire in 2015, but deadly clashes still take place regularly.
(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt and Andrew Osborn; Additional reporting by Maria Kiselyova, Olzhas Auyezov, Idrees Ali and Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Himani Sarkar, Michael Perry, Peter Graff and Angus MacSwan)