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Blinken and Lavrov Seek ‘Mutual Understanding’ on Ukraine

The Russian foreign minister has repeatedly called for written responses to Moscow's proposals. Blinken isn't likely to provide those today.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken greets Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken greets Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) greets Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Stockholm on Dec. 2, 2021. Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres delivers speech on his annual priorities, and U.S. President Joe Biden meets with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.


Blinken Meets Lavrov in Geneva

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Geneva today for the latest round of talks aimed at decreasing tensions between Russia and the West amid fears of an impending invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces.

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres delivers speech on his annual priorities, and U.S. President Joe Biden meets with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.


Blinken Meets Lavrov in Geneva

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Geneva today for the latest round of talks aimed at decreasing tensions between Russia and the West amid fears of an impending invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces.

Ahead of the meeting, Blinken sought to clarify U.S. President Joe Biden’s remarks on Wednesday night at the White House, when Biden suggested that NATO allies were split on how to approach a possible Russian invasion and even on how to define one. In a Thursday speech that doubled as a mop-up job in Berlin, Blinken once again affirmed the position of the United States, accusing Russia of seeking to drag Europe back into the Cold War.

Those remarks will surprise few in Moscow, which has set terms for today’s meeting that Blinken is unlikely to meet. Lavrov has repeatedly called for written responses to Russia’s demands over an end to NATO expansion and security guarantees. Blinken seems to have taken that homework as optional, saying on Wednesday that he would not be providing a paper to Lavrov and preferring to see if “there remain opportunities to pursue the diplomacy” now that the Russian foreign minister has had a week to check the temperature back home.

At a press conference last week, Lavrov signaled his thinning patience with U.S. tactics, accusing Washington of deliberately dragging out the process by regularly referring back to allies. “The Americans point to NATO saying that the United States would be happy to discuss the matters we raise, but Washington has to take its allies into account. I do not think that this is an honest take on this issue,” Lavrov said, citing the 2021 defense deal among the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom that surprised France and others as a “telling example” of what the United States really thinks of its allies.

Whether Blinken presents the U.S. position on paper or in person, it’s unlikely to be any different from what has been said to date. Blinken, unlike his boss, has toed the same line throughout the crisis, underscoring respect for Ukraine’s sovereignty, a country’s right to choose its alliances, and NATO’s so-called open-door policy.

In his speech on Thursday, Blinken played down expectations of a breakthrough, settling instead to continue talking. “These are difficult issues we’re facing. Resolving them won’t happen quickly. I certainly don’t expect we’ll solve them in Geneva tomorrow. But we can advance our mutual understanding,” Blinken said.

And despite some crossed wires this week, Biden seems to be on the same page, even as pressure in Washington builds for more forceful action. When asked by a reporter on Thursday night why he was “waiting on Putin to make the first move,” his response was curt. “What a stupid question,” the president replied.


What We’re Following Today 

The Biden-Kishida summit. Biden meets virtually with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida today, the second meeting between the two leaders since Kishida took over from Yoshihide Suga in October 2021. The format of the visit, taken online due to the omicron variant, is a disappointment for Kishida, who this past December had called an in-person meeting “extremely important.” At the time, Kishida said he wished to use the meeting to strengthen “deterrence and response capabilities” between the two countries as he sought to maintain a “free and open” Indo-Pacific.

Guterres outlines U.N. goals. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres delivers an address to the U.N. General Assembly today outlining his priorities for the year ahead as he begins his second five-year term. Guterres has already marked out the COVID-19 pandemic as a top priority for the year, pushing in December 2021 for a “bold plan to vaccinate every person, everywhere.”


Keep an Eye On

CDU congress. Germany’s conservative Christian Democratic coalition will start picking up the pieces following its historic election defeat in September 2021 when it gathers for its annual congress in Hannover today. Friedrich Merz, who lost out to Armin Laschet in a leadership contest this time last year, will be anointed the new party leader after he won a party vote this past December.

U.S. airstrikes. A group of prominent Democratic lawmakers has called on the White House to reform its airstrike targeting policy, citing the remarkably high number of civilian deaths—48,000 over the last two decades—the strikes have caused. The pressure comes as more details come to light regarding a drone strike in Kabul last August that killed 10 civilians, as well as a botched raid on a Syrian dam that had been placed on a no-strike list due to the risk of thousands of civilian deaths, an operation a U.S. defense official had previously dismissed as “crazy reporting.”


FP Recommends

One year in, how would you rate Biden’s foreign-policy approach? That’s the question my FP colleagues posed to 30 of the world’s leading experts to mark Biden’s first year in office. Their “report card” grades Biden’s efforts across 11 issue areas, from climate change and the pandemic to every global region.


Odds and Ends

German transportation authorities have criticized a Czech driver for abusing its autobahn system, which famously has no speed limit, by clocking a 257-miles-per-hour top speed on a stretch of road between Berlin and Hannover, the Associated Press reports. The stunt came to light after the driver, Radim Passer, also the Czech Republic’s 33rd-richest man, posted the video of his exploits in his Bugatti Chiron online.

Germany’s transportation ministry responded with a statement rejecting “any behavior in road traffic that leads or can lead to endangering road users.”

Passer’s speed would have put him more than three times over the legal limit if Germany had adopted a proposal in the Green Party’s manifesto to cap speeds at 80 miles per hour. The Greens abandoned the measure upon entering coalition talks.

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

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