Russian military escalation with Ukraine looms as diplomatic efforts make little progress

A week of diplomacy in Europe concluded Thursday, with the U.S. and European countries meeting with Russia over its massive military deployment on the borders of Ukraine. But the talks did not end well. Nick Schifrin reports on where the standoff may head moving forward.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    A week of diplomacy in Europe concluded today, with the U.S. and European countries meeting with Russia over its massive military deployment on the borders of Ukraine. But it is not clear if there is going to be a diplomatic path forward.

    So, where do things stand?

    For that, Nick Schifrin joins me now.

    So, Nick, hello. Tell us, how is — what does the outcome look like from this week upon diplomacy?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    No progress on the de-escalation of that massive buildup of 100,000 troops on Ukraine's borders, Judy, and each side maintaining the positions they held at the beginning of this diplomacy, which means the two sides remain very far apart.

    The U.S. is trying to respond to Russian demands that NATO never include Ukraine in the future by offering to focus on arms control and military exercises. And if you listen to the Russians, that is simply not good enough.

    Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov talked to Russian TV today.

  • Sergei Ryabkov, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister (through translator):

    The United States and its NATO allies are not ready to move toward our key requirements on the nonexpansion of NATO.

    As for the elements for which they say, yes, let's discuss, we note that while these subjects are important and serious, they are secondary in comparison to the nonexpansion of NATO. I can see no reason to sit and start the same discussions in the coming days again.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Now, that seems conclusive, Judy.

    But U.S. officials tell me that position has not been communicated officially to the U.S., so the possibility of future talks remain.

    Meanwhile, today, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan repeatedly sailed the U.S. was prepared both to continue diplomacy, but also to punish Russia if it invaded Ukraine. He also maintained, though, that the U.S. would simply not accede to what you just heard, Ryabkov call Russia's key requirements over the future of NATO.

  • Jake Sullivan, U.S. National Security Adviser:

    We stuck to our core premise of reciprocity. We were firm in our principles and clear about those areas where we can make progress and those areas that are nonstarters.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    So, at the end of this week of diplomacy, Russia's primary demand and the U.S. response to it, Judy, is exactly where they were before the diplomacy began.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, does that mean the threat to Ukraine is exactly what it was before all this?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Very much so, Judy. And, if anything, it's probably going the wrong direction, because, yesterday, the Russians announced they had live-fire exercises in the exact same place that they had deployed 100,000 troops to the border for regular exercises late last year.

    And the U.S. intelligence community isn't just concerned about the number of troops or how they're deployed, with advanced weaponry, artillery, electronic warfare, or even that they're effectively deployed surrounding Ukraine.

    The U.S. has more intelligence suggesting Russia plans for invasion, to double the number of troops, and to release a false flag, essentially blaming Ukraine as a pretext for invasion.

    Today, Jake Sullivan acknowledged that they had that extra detail and that they'd be releasing it in the next day.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, meantime, Nick, as you know, this has all been the subject of a lot of debate and voting on Capitol Hill here in Washington.

    What is known to be the two — the positions of the two political parties on this?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes, we saw that explicitly today, when the Senate rejected a bill that would have sanctioned the people and the companies who are behind Nord Stream 2.

    That is a Russian pipeline that's more than 90 percent completed. It would move natural gas to Germany under the Baltic Sea, next to an earlier pipeline, Nord Stream 1.

    The bill we're talking about today was sponsored by Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz. It received 50 Republican votes and Democratic votes, but it needed 60 as part of a deal between Cruz and Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer. Its critics said that it would unfairly punish Germany, rather than Russia, and would divide the transatlantic alliance.

    But its defenders, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, said that it was designed to punish Vladimir Putin.

  • Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY):

    These sanctions, like the prior Nord Stream 2 sanctions, that had overwhelming bipartisan support here in Congress, are not about driving a wedge in Europe.

    The pipeline itself is the wedge. That's the whole point. That's been Putin's goal, decoupling Ukraine from Europe, and making Europe even more reliant on Russian gas.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    So, that bill failed.

    Now the Senate will focus on another bill designed to punish Russia if it invades Ukraine, specifically by sanctioning Vladimir Putin himself.

    It's sponsored by Senate Foreign Relations Chairman New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez.

  • Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ):

    It would impose massive, crippling sanctions on multiple sectors of Russia's economy. It would impose the harshest sanctions on Putin and senior Kremlin officials themselves. It would effectively cut Russia off from the international financial system.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The administration says it's already planning at least some of those penalties if Russia invades.

    And so, Judy, at the end of this week, the diplomatic divide and the tensions remain. As Michael Carpenter, the U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, today put it, after meeting with the organization's 57 countries that includes Russia and Ukraine, he said — quote — "The drumbeat of war is sounding loud."

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It is concerning.

    Nick Schifrin, thank you. And we know you will continue to report on this. Thanks.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Thank you.

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