US and Russian diplomats are seeking to lower the temperature in a heated face-off over Ukraine, despite either side saying no breakthrough is in sight.
Ukraine and its Western allies have for weeks been battling to stem a crisis that has raised fears of a possible Russian invasion.
Armed with seemingly intractable demands, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met in Geneva on Friday at what Mr Blinken called a “critical moment”.
Mr Blinken also said at one point that Washington and Moscow were now on a “clearer path to understanding”.
With an estimated 100,000 Russian troops massed near the Ukraine border, many fear Moscow is preparing for an invasion, a claim it denies.
The US and its allies are scrambling to present a united front to prevent such an invasion — or coordinate a tough response if they cannot.
They have repeatedly threatened “severe” consequences against Russia if an invasion went ahead.
“We’re looking at what is visible to all, and it is deeds and actions and not words that make all the difference,” Mr Blinken said on Friday.
Mr Lavrov, for his part, said the talks were “constructive and useful”, adding that the US agreed to provide written responses to Russian demands on Ukraine and NATO next week.
That, analysts have noted, could at least delay any imminent Russian aggression for a few days.
Russia has denied it was planning an invasion.
But Mr Lavrov on Friday declined to characterise that pledge.
“I can’t say whether we are on the right track or not,” he told reporters, adding: “We will understand that when we receive the US written response to all of our proposals.”
Moscow has demanded that the NATO alliance promise that Ukraine — a former Soviet republic — will never be allowed to join the North Atlantic Treaty.
It also wants the allies to remove troops and military equipment from parts of eastern Europe.
Washington and its NATO allies have flatly rejected those demands, saying Russian President Vladimir Putin knew they were nonstarters.
Editing by Tony Okerafor