Last chance for a de-escalation in the Ukraine conflict?

FFor a moment it looked like a step forward could be made this Friday in Geneva, albeit a small one. It was here that Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin symbolically shook hands for the first time in June. The international marathon of talks on the Ukraine crisis began here eleven days ago with a meeting of Russian and American negotiators. And this is where it will end for the time being – with a meeting between Antony Blinken and Sergey Lavrov, the foreign ministers of America and Russia, scheduled at short notice on Tuesday during a joint telephone call. A glimmer of hope in the talks that Moscow had already said had reached an impasse?

Before the talks, the State Department was cautiously confident: the fact that this meeting would take place suggests that “diplomacy is not dead”. But a few hours before Lavrov landed at Geneva Airport from Moscow, Blinken in Berlin dampened hopes of concrete success. “These are difficult problems that we are confronted with,” said the US Secretary of State in a speech at the Atlantic Bridge in Berlin. “I certainly don’t expect that we will solve them tomorrow in Geneva.” But Washington is still banking on dialogue with Russia. “We can promote our mutual understanding,” said Blinken. That and a Russian de-escalation on the border with Ukraine – “with this we can avert the crisis in the coming weeks.”

A breakthrough – so far none

The high-level meeting in Geneva could be a last-ditch attempt at a diplomatic solution, the last chance for de-escalation by Russia. At noon, the two foreign ministers want to appear separately before the press. In any case, the respective positions should have become unmistakably clear in the past two weeks. Since the starting signal in Geneva on January 10, the Russian provocation by stationing 100,000 troops near the Ukrainian border has been discussed internationally on four occasions: in the NATO-Russia Council and the Permanent Council of the OSCE in the last visit and during Blinken’s visit in Kiev and Berlin this week. Geneva is now the sixth meeting on this topic in eleven days. A breakthrough – so far none.

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On the contrary, Washington speaks of an “extremely dangerous” situation. We are in a phase in which Russia could launch an attack on Ukraine at any time. Blinken also emphasized on Thursday in Berlin: “It’s a real risk, and it’s a high risk.” Any invasion will have serious consequences. On Thursday, the United States imposed sanctions on four Ukrainians suspected of being linked to Russia’s FSB intelligence agency. They are said to have carried out “activities to destabilize Ukraine” on behalf of the Russian government.

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