GENEVA (AP) — Top Russian and U.S. officials held a working dinner in Geneva on Sunday as part of the kickoff to a string of meetings in three European cities this week, with bilateral ties at a low ebb over Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and other Russian officials arrived in the evening for a meeting at the residence of the U.S. ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament, diplomatic officials said. The luxury apartment overlooks Lake Geneva. Ryabkov was meeting with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and her team.

Earlier Sunday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on state television that a first round of “narrow-format” talks on security would get underway during the day, according to Tass news agency.

The less formal Sunday talks come ahead of a broader discussion between the two diplomats and their teams at the U.S. mission in Geneva starting Monday, a first step toward rekindling dialogue as ties have worsened because Russia has deployed an estimated 100,000 troops along its border with Ukraine. Concerns have risen about a broader Russian military incursion in the country.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government has laid out a list of demands, such as seeking guarantees that the NATO military alliance won’t seek to expand any further eastward to countries like Ukraine or Georgia, which are former Soviet republics.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday he didn’t expect any breakthroughs in talks in the bilateral talks in Geneva or during conversations in Brussels, at a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, and at the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe in Vienna later this week.

The United States and other Western allies have pledged “severe costs” to Russia if it moves against Ukraine.

“The question really now is whether President Putin will take the path of diplomacy and dialogue or seeks confrontation,” Blinken said.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Tagged in: