GENEVA — The United States and Russia emerged from seven hours of urgent negotiations on Monday staking out seemingly irreconcilable positions on the future of the NATO alliance and the deployment of troops and weapons in Eastern Europe, keeping tensions high amid fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei A. Ryabkov, Russia’s lead negotiator, insisted after the meeting that it was “absolutely mandatory” that Ukraine “never, never, ever” become a NATO member.
His American counterpart, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, reiterated that the United States could never make such a pledge because “we will not allow anyone to slam closed NATO’s open door policy,” and she said that the United States and its allies would not stand by if Russia sought to change international borders “by force.’’
The impasse left the fate of Ukraine — which was not invited to the bilateral talks — in a state of uncertainty, with Russia’s military intentions far from resolved following hastily-scheduled meetings between Ms. Sherman and Mr. Ryabkov on Sunday night and on Monday.
massed roughly 100,000 troops on its borders with Ukraine, Mr. Ryabkov told reporters “we have no intention to invade Ukraine.” And both sides offered some positive assessments.
Ms. Sherman, talking to reporters via phone after Monday’s meeting, said that she saw some areas where the two countries could make progress, and Mr. Ryabkov described the talks as “very professional, deep, concrete” and that their tone “makes one more optimistic.’’
The talks will continue on Wednesday in Brussels, when Russian officials meet with NATO allies, and on Thursday in Vienna, at a gathering of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which includes both Russia and Ukraine as well as the United States. Mr. Ryabkov said that the outcome of those discussions would determine whether or not Russia was willing to proceed with diplomacy.
And he warned that if the West did not agree to Russia’s demands to roll back NATO’s presence in Eastern Europe, it would face unspecified consequences that would put the “security of the whole European continent” at risk.
American officials told The New York Times, signaling that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia still may not have made up his mind about whether to proceed with an attack, or might be considering something less conventional than pouring troops over the border.
The U.S. officials say they are preparing for everything from a full-scale invasion, to partial incursions, to cyberattacks intended to paralyze the country.
“He tried to maintain a flexible position that would allow Putin to decide either way,” Kadri Liik, a Russia specialist at the European Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin, said of Mr. Ryabkov’s approach. “It will be Putin’s decision whether to continue these talks under the conditions that the U.S. makes available.”
Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea and fomented a separatist war in the country’s east after the pro-Western revolution in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, in 2014. The war in eastern Ukraine continues to simmer, having claimed more than 13,000 Ukrainian lives on both sides.
Understand Russia’s Relationship With the West
The tension between the regions is growing and Russian President Vladimir Putin is increasingly willing to take geopolitical risks and assert his demands.
In the last year, Mr. Putin has increasingly cast Western support for Ukraine as an existential threat, claiming that the neighboring country, formerly a Soviet republic, was being turned into an “anti-Russia” that the West could use to attack or otherwise weaken his country.
But Russia’s aims go far beyond the future of Ukraine, a position it put forth in an extraordinary set of demands to the West last month that sought to roll back NATO’s military presence to 1990s levels. It also asked for guarantees that NATO would not expand eastward or keep forces or weapons in former Soviet states that have since joined NATO. .