Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday downplayed prospects for a diplomatic breakthrough with Moscow ahead of high-stakes U.S.-Russia talks this week aimed at staving off a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“I don’t think we’re going to see any breakthrough,” Mr. Blinken said of the talks officially slated to begin Monday in Geneva between Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov.
“We’ll see if there are grounds for progress, but to make actual progress, it’s very hard to see that happening when there’s an ongoing escalation, when Russia has a gun to the head of Ukraine with 100,000 troops near its borders [and] the possibility of doubling that on very short order,” Mr. Blinken told ABC’s “This Week.”
The sobering remarks from the Biden administration’s top diplomat reflect mounting concerns in Washington that the slow-burning military standoff along the Russia-Ukraine border could reach a tipping point in coming days.
Analysts say the mostly united front presented by the U.S. and its European allies along with threats of crushing economic sanctions have so far kept Russian President Vladimir Putin from launching a full-scale invasion.
But it’s unclear who has the upper hand in Geneva.
State Department officials said Ms. Sherman and Mr. Ryabkov were set to meet Sunday night over a working dinner to discuss topics for Monday’s talks.
Mr. Putin may be looking for a way to ease tensions just weeks after delivering a series of demands to the West. His list included assurances from the U.S. that Ukraine would never join NATO and that the U.S. and NATO would limit troops and military equipment in Eastern Europe.
The U.S. and NATO have rejected those demands.
Asked Sunday whether he believes Mr. Putin has already made a decision to take control of Ukraine, Mr. Blinken responded that he is not sure. “I don’t know if the decision has been made,” the secretary of state said, asserting that U.S. officials have offered Mr. Putin “paths forward.”
“One is through diplomacy and dialogue; the other is through deterrence and massive consequences for Russia if it renews its aggression against Ukraine,” Mr. Blinken told ABC. “We’re about to test the proposition of which path President Putin wants to take this week.”
Concerns have been growing for months that Mr. Putin is looking to expand on his gains of 2014, when Russia forcibly annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine, a former Soviet republic that has a pro-Western government and has for years been the scene of tense geopolitical wrangling between Moscow and the West.
Ben Wolfgang contributed to this report.