Russia gives out mixed signal on talks with US

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Talks this week on Moscow’s demands for security guarantees from the US and its allies are at “a dead end,” a senior Russian diplomat said, stepping up the pressure on the West even as he and other officials held out the prospect of more diplomacy to ease tensions.

“The US and its allies in effect are telling us ‘no’” on Russia’s key proposals, offering further discussions only on “secondary” matters, deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov told RTVi television. “That’s the dead end or difference in approaches.”

The comments by Ryabkov, who led the talks with the US in Geneva on Monday, seemed to reflect a slight hardening of Russia’s position as he said he didn’t see reason to resume discussions in the near future. But shortly after he spoke, his boss, foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, seemed more upbeat, telling state television he expects the US and its allies to respond to Russia’s proposals as soon as next week.

The mixed messages suggested the Kremlin is keeping up the pressure on the US and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato) allies that started with a buildup of tens of thousands of troops on the border near Ukraine. Moscow has so far rejected western calls to pull those forces back, saying it has no plans to invade.

Cuba, Venezuela warning

But the stakes in Russia’s dispute with the West were raised when Ryabkov refused to rule out a Russian military deployment to Cuba and Venezuela if tensions with the US mount.

Ryabkov said in televised remarks that he would “neither confirm nor exclude” the possibility that Russia could send military assets to Cuba and Venezuela if the talks fail and US pressure on Russia mounts.

Speaking in an interview with Russian RTVI TV, Ryabkov noted that “it all depends on the action by our US counterparts,” pointing to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s warning that Moscow could take military-technical measures if the US provokes the Kremlin and turns up military pressure on it.

Ryabkov’s statement followed his comments last month in which he compared the current tensions over Ukraine with the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

Kazakh pullback begins

Troops of a Russia-led security alliance were preparing to pull out of Kazakhstan on Thursday, the Russian defence ministry said. The withdrawal comes only a week after they were deployed to the ex-Soviet nation on the request of its president, who was seeking to quell extremely violent mass protests. The demonstrations started on January 2 in western Kazakhstan, with local residents outraged by a sharp rise in fuel prices.

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