Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Karen Donfried held talks in Moscow on Wednesday to discuss a Russian demand for binding security guarantees from the West, the Russian foreign ministry said.
The negotiations come at a time of soaring East-West tensions over a build-up of Russian troops near Ukraine. Western countries have warned Russia may be poised to launch a new attack on Ukraine, something Moscow has denied.
Russia wants the United States and NATO to guarantee that the Western military alliance will not expand further eastwards or deploy certain weapons systems in Ukraine and other countries that border Russia.
“A thorough discussion took place on the issue of security guarantees (for Russia) in the light of persistent attempts by the United States and NATO to change the military and political situation in Europe in their favour,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.
It gave no further details about the meeting.
The Kremlin says NATO’s expansion threatens Russia and runs counter to assurances given to it as the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. NATO says its activities are defensive in nature and designed to deter new Russia aggression, while Washington has repeatedly said that no country can veto Ukraine’s NATO hopes.
Donfried, who is expected to meet President Vladimir Putin’s point person on Ukraine later on Wednesday, held talks a day earlier with top Ukrainian officials to offer support in the face of the Russian troop build-up.
Ukraine, long at odds with neighbouring Russia, has stepped up military cooperation with NATO, and the Group of Seven warned Russia last week it would face massive consequences and severe costs if it attacked Ukraine.
Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014 and has supported pro-Russian separatists who seized a swath of eastern Ukraine that same year.