Russia’s promise of non-invasion? Ukrainians are skeptical.

Russia's promise of non-invasion?  Ukrainians are skeptical.

“When Russians say, ‘No, no, no, we don’t want to invade Ukraine’ what they mean is, ‘Yes, yes, yes, we do want to invade Ukraine,’” said Oksana Syroid, a former deputy speaker of Parliament.

Story Highlights:

  • But skepticism ran deep on Tuesday inside Ukraine, where politicians were quick to discount the pledge Mr. Ryabkov made on Monday after meeting with American negotiators on Eastern European security.

  • Oleksandr Danylyuk, a former Ukrainian national security adviser, also discounted Mr. Ryabkov’s promise. “It’s not so important what they say now,” Mr. Danylyuk said. “What I don’t want to happen is, after some time, the Russians saying, ‘we didn’t intend to invade, but….’”

“They can always put a comma after it and say, ‘but,’” he added. “The Kremlin is very good at this.”

Mr. Ryabkov said that the outcome of those discussions would determine whether Russia was willing to proceed with diplomacy.

There were at least some positive signs for Ukraine to come out of Monday’s high-stakes negotiations in Geneva, analysts said. Russia called the talks “deep” and “concrete” and committed to continue negotiations this week — with NATO on Wednesday and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Thursday. The O.S.C.E. talks will include Russia and Ukraine, the first high-level, publicly announced meeting recently that will include both countries.

Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, also offered a positive assessment of the Geneva talks, from Ukraine’s standpoint, telling local media they had shown Russia that the United States would not negotiate on European security guarantees until after Moscow withdrew forces from the Ukrainian border.

“Regardless how often Russian diplomats circle around these issues, the starting point for discussing security guarantees in the European space should begin with Russia de-escalating the situation along Ukraine’s border,” Mr. Kuleba said.

Russia laid out sweeping demands last month that sought to roll back NATO’s military presence in Eastern Europe to 1990s levels and asked for guarantees the alliance would not expand eastward or keep forces or weapons in former Soviet states. At the same time, it has massed about 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s border and delivered threatening rhetoric that has put the West on edge, fearing an invasion. While offering the assurance that Moscow did not intend to invade Ukraine, Mr. Ryabkov also said that if Western countries did not agree to Russia’s demands on NATO it would put “the security of the whole European continent” at risk. He did not specify what that meant.

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.

Ms. Syroid, who is the leader of the Self Reliance party that is based in Western Ukraine, said she had little doubt Russia wanted to regain control over Ukraine. But she added that the military buildup and Russian commentary that has toggled between ominous and more conciliatory may not be a prelude to a wider war as much as leverage to extract political concessions from rattled Western governments and Ukraine. Mr. Danylyuk, the former national security adviser, said the broader picture remained ominous for Ukraine. The Geneva talks left both sides essentially where they started, only with the opposing, and seemingly intractable, positions now laid out more formally. Mr. Ryabkov said Ukraine must “never, never, ever” become a member of NATO; the U.S. responded by saying it would never make such a commitment.

But two announcements on Tuesday by Russia and Belarus of military patrols and exercises near Ukraine’s borders suggested the risks of failure. Understand the Escalating Tensions Over UkraineCard 1 of 5

By Tuesday, some Ukrainian analysts were drawing conclusions that Russia would end the week of talks with no concessions. NV, a political news site, called the talks in a headline “Russia’s Foreign Policy Fraud.” “What it means for Ukraine, what is important, is these positions are voiced and they are clearly irreconcilable,” Mr. Danylyuk said. “Obviously, we watch the developments quite closely.”

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