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Blinken warns Russia of risk of 'confrontation'

Demonstrators hold Kazakh national flags during a protest against Russian President Vladimir Putin's policies in Kyiv. - Reuters,
Demonstrators hold Kazakh national flags during a protest against Russian President Vladimir Putin's policies in Kyiv. - Reuters,

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday said Russia had to choose between dialogue and confrontation, ahead of talks in Geneva on soaring tensions over Ukraine.

"There's a path of dialogue and diplomacy to try to resolve some of these differences and avoid a confrontation," Blinken told CNN's 'State of the Union' show.

"The other path is confrontation and massive consequences for Russia if it renews its aggression on Ukraine. We are about to test the proposition about which path President (Vladimir) Putin is prepared to take."

Blinken said on Sunday he does not expect breakthroughs in US-Russia security talks this week but hopes to find some common ground amid a crisis in Ukraine. "I don't think we're going to see any breakthroughs in the coming week," Blinken said on CNN's "State of the Union."

"We're going to be able to put things on the table. Russians will do the same ... and we'll see if there are grounds for moving forward," he said. He said any progress would depend on actions from both sides in negotiations that Washington hopes will avert prospects for a new Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Any movement to resolve the issues, he said, will have to happen on a reciprocal basis.

Blinken's comments lowering expectations for the upcoming talks echoed Russia's hard line on Sunday that it would not make any concessions under pressure at talks this week on the Ukraine crisis.

He stressed that progress would be difficult, if not impossible, amid Moscow's large military buildup at its border with Ukraine.

"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," Blinken said on ABC's "This Week."

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Meanwhile, Representatives of Russia have arrived in Geneva aheadof negotiations with the United States against the backdrop of the Ukraine crisis.

The Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow released a video on Sunday afternoon showing a plane of the delegation at the airport of the Swiss city. The first meeting was already planned for the evening.The central talks, however, are scheduled for Monday, according to the ministry.

From the Russian side, the round will be led by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. He already made it clear in an interview with the state news agency Ria Novosti that Russia was "not going there with an outstretched hand, but with a clearly formulated task that must be solved" under the terms Russia has formulated.

There was at least one demonstration in Ukraine before the negotiations in Geneva. The organizers of the protest in the capital Kiev called on the West to say "no" to Russian head of state Vladimir Putin's ultimatum, the Ukrainian daily Den reported on its website.

Russia had earlier reiterated its calls for binding security agreements with Nato ahead of the talks with the US aimed at easing the soaring tensions over Ukraine.

The country needed "guarantees" from the alliance that it won't expand further, Ryabkov told the Interfax news agency on Sunday.

Moscow's expectations regarding Monday's talks were "realistic," said Ryabkov. "Based on the signals we've heard from Washington andBrussels in recent days, I think it would be naive to assume progress- let alone rapid progress."

Ryabkov also stressed that Russia wasn't planning to discuss the unrest in Kazakhstan with the US delegation led by Deputy Secretaryof State Wendy Sherman. - AFP/Reuters

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