Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday that President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin might meet in an effort to resolve the standoff over Ukraine and the threat of a Russian invasion.
“If it proves useful and productive for the two presidents to meet, to talk, to engage, to try to carry things forward, I think we’re fully prepared to do that,” Blinken said in Geneva, Switzerland, after holding talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
There were no breakthroughs in their meeting, he said, but the two sides have agreed to return to their capitals and hold consultations before meeting again — keeping the door to diplomacy open after weeks of heightened tensions over Russia’s massive troop buildup near Ukraine’s border.
Later, speaking with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America” — asked whether it would take a summit to resolve the situation — Blinken confirmed the U.S. was open to that idea.
“That’s certainly something we’re prepared to do. Right now, the plan is to take stock of where we are next week after we share some ideas with Russia,” Blinken told ABC News.
Those ideas will be a written response to Russia’s two draft treaties, released publicly in December, where Moscow demanded that the U.S. and NATO bar Ukraine from joining the Western military alliance and pull troops back from Eastern European member states.
Those two demands are “nonstarters,” U.S. officials have said, but after repeated Russian requests for a written response, Blinken confirmed Friday that the U.S. will provide one before he and Lavrov meet again.
“There are certain issues and fundamental principles that the United States and our partners and allies are committed to defend. That includes those that would impede the sovereign right of the Ukrainian people to write their own future. There is no trade space there – none,” Blinken told reporters.
That disagreement has left three previous rounds of talks last week to end inconclusively — between the U.S. and Russia, NATO and Russia, and at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. But Russia has dismissed more talks with European countries, instead seeking direct engagement with the U.S. — and to create a rift between the U.S. and its NATO allies.
Blinken said after Friday’s high-stakes meeting that he would return to Washington to consult Biden, members of Congress, and allies and partners.
“Based on our discussion, I believe we can carry forward this work of developing understanding agreements together that ensure our mutual security, but that’s contingent on Russia stopping its aggression toward Ukraine,” he said.
But that’s unlikely to happen any time soon. Russia now has some 100,000 troops massed on three sides of Ukraine, including in Crimea, the peninsula it annexed in 2014, and Belarus, Ukraine’s neighbor to the north where strongman Alexander Lukashenko has increasingly relied on Russian support to prop him up.
Lavrov did not commit to pull those troops back, but said again that Russia is not going to attack Ukraine. He urged Blinken to focus on Russia’s security proposals rather than the heightened tensions over Ukraine, he said at his own press conference afterwards.
“I haven’t heard any point today that would justify the American position on what is happening on the Russian-Ukrainian border. Only concerns, concerns, concerns,” Lavrov told reporters, calling the State Department’s stated concerns about Russian actions “blatant lies.”
Despite that brusque tone, Blinken said the two sides left the meetings with a “better understanding” of each other’s positions – calling it “not a negotiation, but a candid exchange of concerns and ideas.”
Whether that means Russia is engaging in good faith, or whether Putin still continue to destabilize Ukraine and even launch an attack, remains unresolved.
“It’s ultimately going to be President Putin who decides what Russia will do,” Blinken told “Good Morning America.”