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U.S. and Russia Agree to Talks Amid Growing Tensions Over Ukraine

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration mentioned on Tuesday that talks with Russia about tensions over Ukraine and a spread of different points would open on Jan. 10, in what American officers hope will mark a sluggish shift from a attainable army confrontation on Ukraine’s jap border to a resumption of diplomacy.

The announcement got here shortly after Russia declared that 10,000 fight and particular forces troops conducting workouts have been returning to their barracks. However that transfer befell at a long way from Ukraine, and it was not clear whether or not the choice was a part of the extraordinary behind-the-scenes discussions underway to get Russia to tug again tens of 1000’s of troops on the border earlier than critical diplomacy begins.

Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s nationwide safety adviser, mentioned final week on the Council on International Relations that “significant progress on the negotiating desk, after all, should happen within the context of de-escalation, not escalation.”

However the specter of a attainable invasion of Ukraine is crucial leverage for Moscow, and Russian officers say the Jan. 10 talks have to concentrate on their proposed “treaty” that calls for that NATO by no means supply membership to Ukraine or place its forces or weapons in former Soviet states.

A few of these states are already NATO members.

In a press release, the Nationwide Safety Council didn’t say the place the assembly would happen, however the probably website is Geneva, the place earlier rounds of talks about nuclear weapons have been held. Nor did it say who would lead the delegation. The nuclear talks have been led by the deputy secretary of state, Wendy Sherman, and her Russian equal, Sergei Ryabkov.

The Nationwide Safety Council mentioned that Mr. Biden’s “method on Ukraine has been clear and constant: Unite the alliance behind two tracks, deterrence and diplomacy.”

The deterrence aspect of the equation has included arming the Ukrainians with Javelin anti-tank missiles and different weapons. It has additionally concerned getting European and different allies to agree prematurely on a collection of financial sanctions if Russia sends its troops throughout the border to grab elements of Ukraine past Crimea, which it annexed in 2014.

However the US and its allies have been additionally “unified in our willingness to have interaction in principled diplomacy with Russia,” the White Home mentioned, including that “after we sit down to speak, Russia can put its considerations on the desk, and we are going to put our considerations on the desk with Russia’s actions as effectively.”

American diplomats are struggling to know whether or not the diplomatic initiative that might start subsequent month is a critical effort by Russia to push NATO forces away from its border and finish army help to Ukraine, or a feint supposed to offer justification for army motion. Intelligence officers say they consider President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has not determined whether or not to invade Ukraine, however they fear that he could be reluctant to seem as if he’s backing down if he begins to tug the forces again in giant numbers.

Mr. Putin’s final aim, many American officers speculate, is to destabilize Ukraine’s authorities and put in place a pacesetter who is not going to flip to the West for assist. That technique has labored in Belarus, whose president, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, has grown nearer to Mr. Putin and pledged to take part in a rising variety of joint army workouts.

Mr. Putin made clear in an interview broadcast on Sunday that he had no intention of taking his army choices off the desk. He has dismissed Mr. Biden’s vow that the sanctions into consideration could be way more extreme than any the US and its allies have ever imposed in opposition to Russia.

Mr. Putin mentioned he would take into account “various” choices if the West declined to fulfill his calls for. “It’s going to depend upon what proposals our army specialists undergo me,” he mentioned.

However Mr. Putin has choices that don’t contain troop actions, together with utilizing cyberweapons to chop off a part of the electrical grid in Ukraine, which is related to Russia’s grid. Two such assaults, in 2015 and 2016, paralyzed elements of Ukraine, as did the NotPetya assault in 2017 that shut down banks, retailers and media organizations. It’s thought of probably the most costly cyberattacks in fashionable historical past.

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