United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are meeting in Geneva to discuss the possibility of Russia invading Ukraine.
Mr. Blinken warned Moscow on Thursday that any of its forces crossing the border would face severe consequences.
Russia has 100,000 troops on the border but denies any intention of invading.
President Vladimir Putin has issued demands to the West, including the denial of Ukraine’s membership in NATO.
He wants the Western defensive alliance to stop military exercises and stop sending weapons to Eastern Europe, which Moscow considers to be its backyard.
In 2014, Russia seized and annexed the Crimean peninsula in southern Ukraine.
Since then, Ukraine’s military has been at odds with Russian-backed insurgents in border areas. The conflict has claimed 14,000 lives and displaced at least two million people.
The summit between top US and Russian diplomats follows Mr. Blinken’s efforts to secure US allies’ support for sanctions against Moscow.
Following talks with British, French, and German officials in Berlin on Thursday, Mr. Blinken stated that allowing Russia to enter Ukraine would “drag us all back to a much more dangerous and unstable time, when this continent, and this city, were divided in two… with the threat of all-out war hanging over everyone’s heads.”
It’s possible that Mr. Blinken and Mr. Lavrov will leave the talks, which are expected to last about two hours, with contradictory accounts of what happened.
According to State Department officials, Mr. Blinken will try to offer Mr. Lavrov a “diplomatic off-ramp” to defuse tensions.
The United States has rejected Russia’s red lines but is willing to discuss Mr. Putin’s security concerns.
The Kremlin, for its part, says the diplomats will assess the progress of the Ukraine crisis talks so far, and that Russia does not expect the US to provide a formal response to its proposals.
According to Russia’s Interfax news agency, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov stated on Friday that relations with the US are approaching a “dangerous critical line.” He stated that Moscow hoped to persuade Washington to change its stance.
Mr. Blinken could offer Russia more transparency on military exercises in the region, or he could propose reintroducing missile restrictions in Europe. These rules were previously outlined in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a Cold War-era pact that the US abandoned in 2019 after accusing Russia of breaching the agreement.
Russia insists that Ukraine is its primary priority. It unveiled plans for naval drills involving more than 140 warships and more than 60 aircraft on Thursday, viewed as a show of strength.
On the same day, the US warned that Russian intelligence officers were recruiting current and former Ukrainian government officials to act as a provisional government and work with an occupying Russian force in the event of an invasion.
The US Treasury Department sanctioned two current Ukrainian parliamentarians and two former government officials accused of involvement in the plot.
President Biden was widely chastised for remarks he made on Wednesday, in which he bleakly predicted that Russia “will move in” on Ukraine, but appeared to suggest that a “minor incursion” would elicit a weaker response from the US and its allies.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reacted angrily to the message, tweeting: “There are no insignificant incursions. There are no minor casualties, and there is little grief from the loss of loved ones.”
Mr. Biden attempted to clear up the confusion – and apparent schism with Mr. Blinken’s tougher stance – by saying that any Russian troop movement across Ukraine’s border would be considered an invasion, and Moscow would “pay a heavy price.”
Several European countries have urged Russia to change course.
Speaking alongside Mr. Blinken, Germany’s new Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock promised immediate action in the event of a Russian invasion and did not rule out imposing measures that “could have economic consequences for ourselves.”
The Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom, Liz Truss, has also urged Mr. Putin to “desist and withdraw from Ukraine before he makes a massive strategic mistake” that would result in terrible casualties.
She urged Western powers to “step up” in a speech in Sydney on Friday, warning that autocratic nations were being “emboldened in a way we haven’t seen since the cold war.”
Britain announced earlier this week that it would provide Ukraine with additional troops for training and defensive weapons.
Mr. Biden is facing increasing pressure from across the political spectrum in the United States to take pre-emptive action against Russia.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a senior Republican, has called for “sanctions against Putin now,” while Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal has urged administration officials to begin “a massive airlift of… lethal weapons” to Ukrainian forces.