Russian and American officials appear to have made little progress in high-level talks designed to reduce tensions over Ukraine, ITV News Europe Editor James Mates reports
In the end, the mood music was surprisingly upbeat, but that goes to show what can happen when expectations are at rock bottom. Because there was no breakthrough in the talks between the US and Russia in Geneva, no sign of Russia’s "impossible" demands getting anything other than an inevitable "no" from Washington. There will be more talks this week, hopefully leading to a meeting in the next few weeks between Presidents Biden and Putin. The best news to come out of Monday's talks is that the path to that summit is still open, but it is hard to see what the two men can realistically negotiate.
Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov is still insisting on “ironclad, waterproof, bullet-proof, legally binding guarantees, not assurances, not safeguards” that Ukraine and Georgia will never join NATO.
Russia’s 100,000 plus troops camped on Ukraine’s borders are a gun being held to NATO’s head, enforcing that demand. Ukrainian membership of NATO is not likely, far from it. It will most probably never happen, but this is not something the US or Europe are ever likely to concede in the face of such threats.
As for Ukraine itself, its future is being discussed without a single Ukrainian, without even a European, at the table.
It’s as if the Cold War had never ended, and we are back in a world of superpowers and their "spheres of interest". Which, of course, is exactly the world that Vladimir Putin would like to return to. For the time being the Ukrainians appear pretty sanguine at how things are playing out, although in reality they have little choice.
“The US is our strategic partner” Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister Emina Dzaporova told me on Monday. She insisted she trusted the US neither to appease Putin, nor betray her country.
The former speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament, Dmytro Razumkov, went further, telling me that it was in Washington’s own interests not to back down in the face of Russian sabre-rattling. He said: “Ukraine is not the only issue here, it’s an issue for the world. If the US and the EU make concessions we may get the same consequences as before WWII.
"When you make concessions to the aggressor you get new encroachments. The Russian Federation is a serious expert at this and does an excellent job of this kind of ‘diplomacy’”.
Putin is already benefiting from what has been described as "gangster diplomacy".
He will get another head-to-head summit with Joe Biden, the issue of NATO expansion is firmly on the international agenda, most of all Russia is almost back to being treated as a superpower, diplomatically at least. But to achieve this he has marched a lot of troops up to the top of a very large hill, and it’s quite hard to see how he wins enough concessions to justify marching them back down again.
That is what makes the current situation quite so dangerous.