US envoy in Europe says 'drumbeat of war is sounding loud'

Washington's envoy in Europe on Thursday issued a stark warning of war in Eastern Europe amid Russia’s military buildup on Ukraine’s border but said the U.S. and the majority of its allies support ongoing dialogue to tamp down tensions. 

“We're facing a crisis in European security. The drumbeat of war is sounding loud, and the rhetoric has gotten rather shrill,” said Michael Carpenter, the U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). 

Carpenter spoke with reporters following a meeting of the OSCE focused on advancing diplomacy between the U.S., Europe and Russia, the conclusion of an extraordinary session of three diplomatic meetings on the continent this week and in response to Russian military provocations.  

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“There's close to 100,000 troops on the Russian side of its border with Ukraine. Their presence and the live fire measures being carried out are raising many questions about Moscow's intention,” Carpenter said. 

The OSCE meeting, which took place in Vienna on Thursday, was the first inaugural permanent council meeting of 2022 but was overtaken by discussions surrounding Russia’s military buildup on Ukraine’s border. Both nations are members of the security group.  

It was the first time Russian and Ukrainian officials met in person to discuss what Moscow calls its security concerns and followed bilateral talks between the U.S. and Russia in Geneva on Monday and between Russia and NATO on Wednesday in Brussels. 

Russia has said that its military is conducting drills and rejected that it has intentions of invading Ukraine, despite its support for an eight-year conflict between separatists and the Ukrainian government in the east of the country as well as its occupation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, which it annexed in 2014. 

The meetings in Europe this week were organized in response to Russia’s military buildup and its publication in December of security demands of the U.S. and NATO.  

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The U.S. has rejected Russian proposals that NATO cease expansion, in particular over Ukraine’s application to the defensive alliance, but offered ongoing dialogue with Moscow to discuss reciprocal actions that the U.S. and its allies can take to offset security concerns and increase transparency for both sides. 

“We're prepared to extend, we have already extended a hand, to offer a serious genuine dialogue,” Carpenter said.  

The Russian delegation is expected to return to Moscow and brief Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinYes, the US can legally intervene if Russia invades Ukraine Russia-Ukraine conflict threatens U.S. prestige China warns US to 'stop interfering' in Olympics MORE about the offers for ongoing dialogue. The U.S. and allies have given no indication of when they want to hear back from the Kremlin on returning to the table for follow on discussions.  

“We're going to have to see if the Russians are prepared to engage,” Carpenter said. 

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, who has led the Russian delegation in the three meetings, appeared to dismiss the possibility of ongoing discussions, reportedly saying in a press briefing after the OSCE session on Thursday that he saw “no grounds” to continue the talks.  

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"There is, to a certain extent, a dead end or a difference in approaches," he reportedly said, calling for signs of flexibility from the U.S. "I do not see reasons to sit down in the coming days, to gather again and start these same discussions." 

Carpenter responded to those comments, saying the U.S. has approached the three meetings seriously but would not negotiate “core principles” that are being demanded by the Russian side, such as the option for any country to propose application to NATO and other discussions around bilateral security discussions and alliances.  

“If the Russians walk away from these talks, it'll be clear that they were never serious about diplomacy in the first place,” he said.