OSCE meets over Europe-Russia tensions in Ukraine – The Washington Post

BELGRADE, Serbia — Russia increased its pressure on NATO and Europe Thursday, dashing hopes of further talks to defuse the crisis over Ukraine’s hopes of joining the Western alliance.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said he saw “no grounds” to continue the talks, in a blow to the ongoing efforts to cool tensions. His comments came as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe met in Vienna in the latest attempt to avert a major European crisis as Russia masses troops on Ukraine’s border.

Speaking on Russian television, Ryabkov said the United States and its allies had rejected Russia’s key demands — including its call for an end to NATO’s open door policy for new members — offering to negotiate only on topics of secondary interest to Moscow.

“There is, to a certain extent, a dead end or a difference in approaches,” he said. Without some sign of flexibility from the United States, “I do not see reasons to sit down in the coming days, to gather again and start these same discussions.”

The comments are the latest in a campaign of steady pressure by Russia on the United States and NATO in recent months, which has included scaling up military operations on Ukraine’s borders, amping up its rhetoric and demanding sweeping changes to Europe’s security architecture.

“It seems the risk of war in the OSCE area is now greater than ever before in the last 30 years,” the group’s Permanent Council chairman, Zbigniew Rau of Poland, said as he opened the meeting.

Europe faces “a particularly grave threat to peace,” he added, and must cleave to its founding principles that states are equal and should not use military force or threats.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Thursday that talks with the United States and NATO were unsuccessful and in particular condemned a bill announced the day before by U.S. Democratic senators for tough new sanctions against Russians, including President Vladimir Putin and other top military and government figures if there is military action against Ukraine.

Peskov called the bill “extremely negative, especially against the background of the ongoing series of negotiations, albeit unsuccessful, but negotiations.”

Sanctioning a head of state “is an outrageous measure that is comparable to breaking off relations,” Peskov said.

The meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council, which includes Russia and Ukraine, is part of a series of diplomatic steps this week designed to defuse tensions over the massing of Russian troops near the Ukrainian border, which has raised fears that Putin may be planning a renewed attack.

Russian officials have denied any such plans and have rebuffed NATO calls to de-escalate, saying it has a right to move troops and forces on its own territory. Russia has countered with demands for sweeping security guarantees from the United States and NATO, including a halt to any further expansion eastward of NATO.

The U.S. ambassador to the OSCE, Michael Carpenter, said that no concrete results were expected this week but that finding ways to deepen the dialogue with Russia in coming months was important.

“Our main goal is, in principle, to establish a dialogue,” he said, speaking to independent Russian television station Dozhd.

The talks this week are a key test for NATO and European countries in their efforts to avert a major new war and to strengthen the continent’s security.

It also marks a crucial challenge for the Biden administration’s effort to show that democracies can prevail over authoritarianism and the defiance of international norms.

Thursday’s talks follow a meeting between U.S. and Russian officials in Geneva on Monday and a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council on Wednesday, the first of its kind in two years.

The OSCE plays a key role in Ukraine, monitoring a cease-fire under the Minsk peace deal that was designed to end the war in eastern Ukraine between Kyiv and Russian-backed separatists. The war has killed more than 13,000 people since it began in 2014, in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Russia denies any part in the war, calling it an “internal” Ukrainian conflict. The Minsk agreement has made no progress in ending the crisis and returning eastern Ukraine to Kyiv’s control. In recent years, the Kremlin has intervened by issuing passports to residents of eastern Ukraine, enabling them to vote in Russian elections.

A member of the Russian delegation in Wednesday’s NATO-Russia Council talks, Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko, said the discussions indicated “a long list of differences on fundamental issues.”

He accused NATO of “trying to gain supremacy in all areas and in all possible theaters of war” and warned that any further deterioration in relations could lead to “the most unpredictable and most severe consequences for European security.”

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said NATO allies showed a united front at the meeting in support of the open-door policy and the right of every country to determine its own security arrangements. She added that it was too early to say whether the talks would avert war, but that the outlook would become clearer after Russia’s delegations returned to Moscow and reported to Putin.

“And everyone, Russia most of all, will have to decide whether they really are about security, in which case they should engage, or whether this was all a pretext — and they may not even know yet,” Sherman said.

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