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Russian demands are 'non-starters,' says U.S. diplomat

American and Russian diplomats made little progress on defusing tensions in Eastern Europe during talks that began Monday in Geneva, The New York Times reports.

Moscow has massed 100,000 troops on its border with Ukraine. Putin said in December he would prefer to settle tensions diplomatically, but some observers argue his true goals are war and conquest. "[Putin] might well prefer near-term conflict even over a relatively favorable settlement," Noah Millman wrote at The Week.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei A. Ryabkov told reporters there is "no reason to fear some kind of escalatory scenario" but that he did not "see an understanding from the American side of the necessity of a decision in a way that satisfies us."

He also said the talks were "very professional" and that he got the impression "the American side took the Russian proposals very seriously and studied them deeply."

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, however, made it clear that Russia's proposals are not on the table. Russian demands that Ukraine be barred from NATO membership and that the alliance cut back its deployments in Eastern Europe are "non-starters for the United States," Sherman said.

Despite the lack of progress, however, neither side has walked away from the table.

The Associated Press reports a meeting between Russian diplomats and NATO representatives is set to take place Wednesday in Brussels followed by a Thursday meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, of which both Russia and the U.S. are members, in Vienna.