US, Russia to hold talks on arms control, Ukraine on January 10
Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin (AFP)

The United States and Russia will hold much-anticipated talks in January, a White House official told AFP Monday, with the rivals due to negotiate on nuclear arms control and mounting tensions over Ukraine.

"The United States looks forward to engaging with Russia," a spokesperson for the National Security Council said, on condition of anonymity.

"When we sit down to talk, Russia can put its concerns on the table and we will put our concerns on the table with Russia's activities as well."

Bilateral talks are scheduled for January 10, the spokesperson said.

Moscow and NATO representatives are then expected to meet January 12, while Russia and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which includes the United States, will meet January 13, the spokesperson added.

The January 10 meeting will be held as part of the Strategic Security Dialogue initiative launched by US President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin at their summit in Geneva last June.

While that format is mostly consecrated to resuscitating post-Cold War nuclear arms control treaties, the talks will also cover the standoff over Ukraine, where Russia has deployed a large combat force on the border, a senior White House official said, also on condition of anonymity.

The NATO-Russia Council meeting and the talks between Moscow and the OSCE's Permanent Council are slated to focus on Ukraine.

No cutting out Ukraine

Western capitals accuse Putin of threatening to invade Ukraine, a former Soviet territory seeking to break from Moscow's sphere of influence and eventually join the NATO alliance.

Russia already occupies a swath of Ukraine in the Crimean peninsula and is accused of fomenting a separatist pro-Moscow rebellion in the industrial east of the country.

Deployment by Russia of tens of thousands of new troops to the border sparked fears in Kiev and among its Western allies of a wider war, possibly including further seizures of Ukrainian territory.

Putin denies planning to attack the neighboring country, saying the troop movements are to defend Russia against an encroaching Western military.

This month he issued a series of far-reaching security demands to Western countries that included barring Ukraine from getting NATO membership.

In response, the United States and its European partners have threatened to impose harsh economic sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine, while also offering to hold negotiations.

The National Security Council spokesperson said Ukraine's interests would not be ignored in cutting any deal with Russia.

Negotiations will include "nothing about our allies and partners without our allies and partners, including Ukraine," the spokesperson said.

"President Biden's approach on Ukraine has been clear and consistent: unite the alliance behind two tracks -- deterrence and diplomacy. We are unified as an alliance on the consequences Russia would face if it moves on Ukraine," the spokesperson added.

"But we are also unified in our willingness to engage in principled diplomacy with Russia."

There was no immediate word on who would represent the two sides on January 10.

© 2021 AFP