Blinken-Lavrov meet on soaring Ukraine tensions: Live updates | Conflict News

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov are holding talks in Geneva over 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 United States 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 alliance end activity in Eastern Europe and Ukraine and never embrace the former Soviet republic as a new member.

Here are all the latest updates:

‘No easy way out’ for US, Russia: Analyst

Fabrice Pothier, chief strategy officer at consultancy firm Rasmussen Global, named after its founder, the former NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen, says there is “no easy way out, or easy win” for either the US or Russia in the ongoing situation.

“The essence of this crisis is artificial, it has been handmade by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who decided … to try and squeeze some concessions out of the US and NATO that Putin knows very well they cannot give him,” Pothier, a former NATO planner, told Al Jazeera from Santander, Spain.

Blinken: ‘This is a critical moment’

The US does not expect to resolve its differences with Russia over Ukraine at the talks in Geneva but hopes to test whether diplomacy remains a viable option, Blinken says on his arrival for the meeting.

“This is a critical moment. You’re right: We don’t expect to resolve our differences here today,” Blinken said in televised opening remarks.

“But I do hope and expect that we can test whether the path of diplomacy, of dialogue, remains open. We’re committed to walking that path, to resolving our differences peacefully and I hope to test that proposition today,” he added.

Lavrov: Russia not expecting a breakthrough

Lavrov tells Blinken Moscow is not expecting any breakthrough during the talks in Geneva, adding Moscow expects a concrete response to its sweeping security demands.

“[Our] proposals are extremely concrete and we await equally concrete answers,” the Russian foreign minister said in televised opening remarks.

Diplomats begin discussions

Blinken and Lavrov kick off their talks at the lakeside luxury Hotel President Wilson, named after the US leader whose decisions included intervening against the Bolshevik revolution.

The pair shook hands and greeted one another before the discussions started shortly after 11am local time (10:00 GMT).

A Ukrainian service member walks along fighting positions on the contact line with Russian-backed separatist rebels near the town of Avdiivka in Donetsk Region, Ukraine Kyiv and its allies fear that a Russian invasion may be imminent [File: Oleksandr Klymenko/Reuters]

Moscow expects US reply to security demands next week: Report

Moscow expects to receive a written reply from Washington to its demands on security guarantees next week, the Interfax news agency quotes Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying.

Ryabkov said Russia blamed the US for the fact that bilateral ties were close to a “dangerous critical line”, but hoped to persuade Washington to change its approach.

The Kremlin has warned it could take unspecified military action if its proposals are not met.

Kremlin cool on recognising Ukraine’s breakaway regions

The Kremlin has reacted coolly to a Russian parliament initiative to recognise two pro-Russian breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as independent states, saying it is important to avoid steps that could increase existing tensions.

Russia’s parliament will hold consultations next week on an idea to recognise the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic in Donbas, the chamber’s speaker said.

But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was important not to try and score political points in such a fragile situation.

Ukraine says Russia sending mercenaries, weapons to eastern Ukraine

Ukraine’s military intelligence says Russia is actively recruiting mercenaries and sending them for intensive training in separatist-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine.

It said in a statement that fuel, several tanks, artillery and mortars had been secretly taken to the area from Russia.

Europeans are ‘united’ on Ukraine crisis, Spain’s FM says

Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares says that Europeans have a united position on the Ukraine crisis and that Madrid is pushing for dialogue to avert conflict.

“Let’s give dialogue a chance. That is what Spain is pushing for. If dialogue does not bear fruit, of course, Spain will stand with its European partners and its NATO allies united in deterrence,” Albares said in Madrid.

Spain has sent warships to join NATO naval forces in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea as tensions rise, Defence Minister Margarita Robles said on Thursday.

‘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

Blinken says he does not expect the “difficult issues” underscoring US-Russia tensions to be resolved during his discussions with Lavrov.

“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 before the talks.

“But we can advance our mutual understanding,” he added. Blinken also said 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, Interfax 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 12 Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets and a Pantsir missile system would also be deployed to Belarus for the drills.

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