Blinken-Lavrov meet on soaring Ukraine tensions


US secretary of state says he does not expect ‘difficult issues’ to be solved at meeting with Russian foreign minister.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov are holding talks in Geneva aimed at defusing the Ukraine crisis.

Friday’s high-stakes meeting concludes Blinken’s whistle-stop European tour; he has been seeking commitments among Washington’s allies over how to respond if Moscow presses ahead with a feared invasion of its neighbour.

The US has called on Russia to pull back thousands of troops it has massed near the border with Ukraine, warning any incursion would be met with a swift, severe and united response from the White House and its partners.

Moscow denies it is planning an attack, and demands that the US-headed NATO military promise to end military activity in Eastern Europe and Ukraine and never embrace the former Soviet republic as a new member.

Here are all the latest updates:

‘Not expecting major breakthroughs’

Al Jazeera’s Natacha Butler, reporting from Geneva, says Blinken is hoping the meeting with Lavrov will lead to “more diplomacy and talks in the future”.

“That is the only alternative to conflict,” she said. “But what we are not expecting though are any major breakthroughs after we have had more than nearly two weeks of talks and meetings without concrete results.”

Blinken: I don’t expect we’ll solve difficult issues in Geneva

Veteran diplomats who have encountered each other for years, Blinken is known for his unflappable calm and Lavrov for his mordant intensity.

They will meet at the lakeside luxury Hotel President Wilson, named for the US leader whose decisions included intervening against the Bolshevik revolution.

“These are difficult issues we are facing, and resolving them won’t be done quickly. I don’t expect we’ll solve them in Geneva,” Blinken said in Geneva.

“But we can advance our mutual understanding,” Blinken said, and if Russia de-escalates on the ground, “that can turn us away from this crisis in the weeks ahead.”


Russia wants NATO forces to leave Romania, Bulgaria

The security guarantees that Russia seeks from the West include provisions requiring NATO forces to leave Romania and Bulgaria, the Russian foreign ministry says.

Moscow has demanded legally binding guarantees from NATO that the bloc will stop its expansion and return to its 1997 borders.

Replying to a question about what that would mean for Bulgaria and Romania, which joined NATO after 1997, the foreign ministry said Russia wanted all foreign troops, weapons and other military hardware withdrawn from those countries.

Can US sanctions sway Putin’s thinking?

The US and its Western allies have pledged to impose sweeping economic sanctions on Russia should it make an incursion into Ukraine.

But what penalties could Washington and its partners impose, and how badly would they actually hurt Moscow? Read Al Jazeera’s analysis here.

Russia sends S-400 battalions to Belarus for drills: Report

Russia is sending two battalions of S-400 surface-to-air missile systems to Belarus to join military drills there next month, the Interfax news agency reports.

Russian military forces and hardware began arriving in Belarus this week for the “Allied Resolve” drills to be held near the former Soviet republic’s western border with NATO members Poland and Lithuania, and close to its southern flank with Ukraine.

The S-400 battalions – which typically include eight anti-aircraft missile systems each – had been dispatched from Russia’s Far East by train, Interfax quoted the defence ministry as saying. Moscow has said that 12 Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets and a Pantsir missile system would also be deployed to Belarus for the drills.

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