On Beijing's doorstep.
1. Russian and American officials met for a preliminary dinner last night to begin a high-stakes negotiation over threats to Ukraine and a widening gulf between Moscow and the West, but there was deep pessimism on both sides that a diplomatic solution was within reach. Even before they sat down, the senior Russian official dispatched to the talks warned that the United States had a “lack of understanding” of the Kremlin’s security demands, and the United States voiced doubts over whether Russia was “serious” about de-escalating the Ukraine crisis. The comments by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei A. Ryabkov maintained the hard-line rhetoric that some analysts and Western officials see as a possible prelude to new Russian military action against Ukraine. (via nytimes.com)
2. The Biden administration and its allies are assembling a punishing set of financial, technology and military sanctions against Russia that they say would go into effect within hours of an invasion of Ukraine, hoping to make clear to President Vladimir V. Putin the high cost he would pay if he sends troops across the border. In interviews, officials described details of those plans for the first time, just ahead of a series of diplomatic negotiations to defuse the crisis with Moscow, one of the most perilous moments in Europe since the end of the Cold War. The plans the United States has discussed with allies in recent days include cutting off Russia’s largest financial institutions from global transactions, imposing an embargo on American-made or American-designed technology needed for defense-related and consumer industries, and arming insurgents in Ukraine who would conduct what would amount to a guerrilla war against a Russian military occupation, if it comes to that. Such moves are rarely telegraphed in advance. But with the negotiations looming — and the fate of Europe’s post-Cold War borders and NATO’s military presence on the continent at stake — President Biden’s advisers say they are trying to signal to Mr. Putin exactly what he would face, at home and abroad, in hopes of influencing his decisions in coming weeks. (via nytimes.com)
3. NATO has warned Moscow to abandon its belligerent foreign policy and co-operate with the west or face a military alliance steeled for conflict on the eve of a week of intense diplomacy aimed at averting a Russian assault on Ukraine. Jens Stoltenberg, NATO secretary-general, said the US-led defense pact was prepared for “a new armed conflict in Europe” should negotiations fail, as western officials readied for potential discussions with Moscow on reducing the size of military exercises, arms control and a pledge not to deploy US missiles in Ukraine. “I am aware of Russia’s history. For centuries they have experienced conflict with neighbors,” he told the Financial Times. “[But] Russia has an alternative: to co-operate, to work with NATO.” (via ft.com)
4. Concern among some big European nations about economic fallout raises the risk of a split with the U.S. on how strongly to hit Russia with fresh sanctions if it invades Ukraine, according to people familiar with the matter. Western allies are united in their desire to prevent a war as they enter high-stakes talks this week aimed at defusing tensions with Russia, warning it faces massive penalties for any incursion. Actions that have been discussed include export controls, curbing Russia’s access to technology, and even cutting it out of the global system for financial payments. (via bloomberg.com)
5. Even as Russian President Vladimir Putin masses troops near the Ukraine border and threatens action unless his demands from the West are met, there’s a potential positive glimmer emerging via the country’s state media. With senior officials from Russia and the U.S. meeting this week in Geneva for high-stakes talks, the media in Russia has gone oddly quiet. Hostile Russian coverage of Ukraine has declined since early December, following a steep rise in the months before, according to a study of almost 19 million online items with Russia’s “.ru” domain name by Semantic Visions, a Prague-based data analytics company that offers risk assessment to corporations. The pattern is almost identical to last spring. In that case, negative Russian media sentiment toward the nation’s ex-Soviet neighbor peaked shortly before the government announced in late April that it was ending another major build-up of forces. (via bloomberg.com)