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U.S.-Russia Talks Reach Murky Conclusion

The possibility of further talks remains open as multilateral discussions take over for the rest of the week.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov pose for pictures in Geneva on Jan. 10. Denise Balibouse/Pool/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S.-Russia talks end inconclusively in Geneva, the Organization of Turkic States meets on Kazakhstan, and United Nations aid agencies launch Afghanistan plans.

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U.S.-Russia Talks End in Stalemate

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S.-Russia talks end inconclusively in Geneva, the Organization of Turkic States meets on Kazakhstan, and United Nations aid agencies launch Afghanistan plans.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

U.S.-Russia Talks End in Stalemate

U.S. and Russian officials agreed on little else but to keep talking as discussions over Ukraine and NATO’s future concluded in Geneva on Monday.

Representatives from both countries described the nearly eight-hour exchange as businesslike and professional even as they came away without a resolution that meets either side’s objectives.

The inconclusive result keeps possibilities open for further diplomacy, something U.S. Deputy of Secretary of State Wendy Sherman hinted at in her remarks to the press following the meeting.

Sherman now heads to Brussels to prepare for Wednesday’s NATO-Russia Council, where she will again meet Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov.

Samuel Charap, a senior political scientist at the Rand Corporation, summed the day up. “It could have been worse,” he tweeted.

Ryabkov told reporters after the meeting it offered a chance for frank discussions on issues that were previously talked around. “Now, a spade was called a spade, which in itself has a therapeutic effect on our relations with the West,” Ryabkov said.

Ryabkov also reiterated Russia’s demand that Ukraine “never, never, ever becomes a member of NATO” while once again questioning whether the United States took Russia’s demands seriously.

If more U.S.-Russia talks are to happen, what should be on the table? Thomas Graham and Rajan Menon, writing in POLITICO Magazine, attempt to thread the needle of Russia’s Ukraine demands by considering a moratorium on the country’s future NATO membership amid a larger security compromise. “Now is the time to think big and imagine a new, more durable order, one that can encompass Russia,” they write.

Others go further, with author Anatol Lieven, writing for the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft’s blog, arguing for U.S. backing for an autonomous Donbass region as well as a treaty of neutrality for Ukraine—worked out by the United States and Russia—which would both hobble Russia’s territorial ambitions while holding off the prospect of greater Ukrainian integration with the West.

“An agreement along these lines will be bitterly attacked by Western hardliners with all the usual accusations of ‘cowardice’ and ‘appeasement,’” Lieven writes. “They need to ask themselves however whether they are really prepared to contemplate war with Russia; and if not, what they are proposing as a concrete alternative to these proposals.”

What We’re Following Today

U.N. Afghanistan plan. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs launch their plan for Afghanistan and the surrounding region today as the country experiences a harsh winter. The UNHCR estimates there are 2.6 million Afghan refugees, with a further 3.5 million internally displaced persons. The World Food Program has already highlighted hunger as a pressing concern, with 23 million Afghans in need of food assistance.

Turkic alliance meets. Foreign ministers from the Organization of Turkic States—comprising Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, and Uzbekistan—meet today to discuss the recent unrest and violence in Kazakhstan, where more than 160 people were killed.

Speaking to a meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization on Monday, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev described the events as an “attempted coup d’état,” while Russian President Vladimir Putin implied the unrest was stoked by outside forces.

Keep an Eye On

Climate changes. The last seven years were the world’s hottest “by a clear margin,” according to the European Union Copernicus Climate Change Service, with 2021 ranking as the fifth hottest year on record. The monitoring service saw a significant jump in the amount of heat-trapping methane gas in the atmosphere as its annual growth rate from 2020 to 2021 doubled the rates measured over the past 17 years.

The news comes as insurance giant Munich Re warned that natural disasters, such as severe storms and flooding, would increase as the impact of climate change worsens. The company’s annual natural disaster overview found that Germany’s July 2021 floods caused $40 billion in damage, while Hurricane Ida, which hit the United States in September 2021, was the world’s costliest, incurring $65 billion in damage.

The increasing pace of climate-related disasters is reflected in the latest Global Risks Report from the World Economic Forum, which puts climate-related risks top of the list of long-term global concerns.

Aung San Suu Kyi handed further sentence. Myanmar’s detained democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi was handed a four-year prison sentence on Monday in a case involving the possession of walkie-talkies as Myanmar’s military seeks to sideline the National League for Democracy co-founder. Amnesty International called the ruling “the latest act in the farcical trial against the civilian leader.” Monday’s sentence brings her total prison time to six years, after a court sentenced her to four years in prison (which was later cut down to two) for “incitement” last month.

Iran-China ties. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian is to visit China this week as the country seeks to cement ties with Beijing. According to Iranian Foreign Minister spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh, the visit will include discussions on the “comprehensive strategic partnership” agreement signed in March 2021, which included plans for sweeping Chinese investments in Iran’s economy in return for a steady oil supply from Iran.

Denmark jails spy chief. The head of Denmark’s Defence Intelligence Service, Lars Findsen, has been detained for more than a month over a suspected leak of classified information, Danish media reported on Monday. His case appears to stem from a 2020 news story disclosing Danish collaboration with the U.S. National Security Agency to use Danish undersea cables to help spy on U.S. targets, including then-German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Speaking to reporters on Monday, Findsen called the charges against him “completely insane.”

Odds and Ends

Faced with the choice of riding a modern-day pony or a medieval war horse into battle, you may be better off choosing the softer option, after British archeologists found the animals were not as big as Hollywood has made them out to be.

Researchers at the University of Exeter studying bones from horses from the medieval period found that horses ridden by knights and men-at-arms in medieval warfare were only as large as 14.2 hands (the traditional horse height measurement from hoof to where the horse’s neck meets its back), or 4 feet, 10 inches.

Alan Outram, who led the research, told the Guardian that the horse’s size did not reflect the great effort applied to royal horse-breeding during the 13th and 14th centuries. “They were spending much more money on horses than people,” Outram said.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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