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U.S. and Russia unwilling to budge as talks begin in Geneva

Talks are set to begin Sunday in Geneva between representatives of the U.S. and Russian governments with the goal of diffusing tensions in Eastern Europe.

Almost 100,000 Russian troops have massed on the Ukrainian border, and intelligence analysts warn that an invasion could be immanent.

Both parties, however, have issued statements suggesting that negotiations are unlikely to produce any workable solution on which Russia and the U.S. can agree. The New York Times reported Sunday that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei A. Ryabkov said the U.S. was entering into the talks with "a lack of understanding of what we need." He said Russia's goal is to "bring NATO back to positions that are essentially equivalent to what was the case in 1997."

NATO began expanding into Eastern Europe in 1999 with the admission of Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic.

On the American side, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday that he does not expect talks to be productive, NBC News reported. Russia submitted draft treaties last month containing a pair of ultimatums. NATO, the Russians insisted, must curtail its troop deployments in Eastern Europe and offer a binding guarantee that Ukraine will never be admitted to the alliance. "Neither of those is on the table," Blinken said on CNN's State of the Union.

Of course, this may be exactly what Russian President Vladimir Putin wants. "If Putin believes he could achieve [territorial gains in Ukraine] easily by force and thereby demonstrate the West's impotence to stop him, he might well prefer near-term conflict even over a relatively favorable settlement," Noah Millman wrote at The Week.

Blinken also predicted that if Russia does invade Ukraine, NATO will likely "reinforce its positions along its eastern flank, the countries that border Russia." He also said there would be "massive consequences for Russia if it renews its aggression on Ukraine."

During a Dec. 7 call with Putin, President Biden ruled out the possibility that the U.S. would unilaterally send troops to defend Ukraine, but he did warn Putin that, in the event of an invasion, Russia would face economic sanctions "like nothing he's ever seen."