A diplomatic momentum is building as this week the serious talking begins to de-escalate tensions and avoid a new and even bloodier conflict on the eastern fringe of Europe.

Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, more than 14,000 people have died in hostilities in eastern Ukraine. But these numbers could pale beside those who lose their lives if the Kremlin orders a full-scale invasion.

On Friday, following a meeting of Nato foreign ministers, Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, demanded Moscow end its “malign activity towards Ukraine” while Jens Stoltenberg, Nato’s Secretary-General, said the western alliance must prepare for the “possibility diplomacy will fail”.

Today in Geneva, key US-Russia talks are due to begin. Tomorrow, Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, will visit Nato’s headquarters in Brussels for talks.

Wednesday will see Russian and Nato officials meet for the first time in three years to talk matters Ukraine, including “military activities, reciprocal transparency,” and, perhaps most importantly, “risk reduction”. A day later, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe will meet to mull things over. A UK Government statement in the Commons is likely.

The West is hoping the use of Russian forces in Kazakhstan will be a distraction for Vladimir Putin. But this might only prove temporary.

Washington has warned of “massive consequences” should Russia invade Ukraine. Yet the EU is divided on just what attitude to strike with Russia. Given the economic links to Moscow, not least because of European reliance on Russian gas, there are some countries that want to tread softly, including Germany, which is supporting the construction of the contentious Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Europe.

As the US-Russia talks begin, Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign affairs minister, has underlined the need for the EU to be at the heart of them, declaring: “There is no security in Europe without the security of Ukraine.”

Last month, Putin told military chiefs the West not Russia was to blame for rising tensions despite the fact there are an estimated 100,000 Russian troops on the Ukraine border along with a raft of military hardware; which makes it difficult not to conclude this is a force poised for invasion.

For the Kremlin, the Cold War never really ended. The only sovereignty it recognises is Russia’s as we saw only too blatantly with the Salisbury poisonings.

Putin believes the old Soviet Union gave up certain territories far too easily after the fall of communism. The President insists Ukraine is part of Russia’s “sphere of influence”; which is code for a desire to control it.

But Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and the bloody conflict in the Donbas region has put paid to that. Putin is pushing for “security guarantees” ie that Ukraine will not be allowed to join Nato but the alliance insists it’s a sovereign state and has the right to do what it chooses.

Stoltenberg stressed: “The whole idea Ukraine is a threat to Russia is to put the whole thing upside down; Ukraine is not a threat to Russia. If anything, it is the idea of a democratic, stable Ukraine which is a challenge for them and, therefore, Nato will continue to provide support to our partner, to a sovereign nation, but also, of course, recognising Ukraine is a partner and not a Nato ally."

In his speech to the Russian top brass, Putin denounced Washington’s support for Kiev, saying: “What the United States is doing in Ukraine is at our doorstep and they should understand we have nowhere further to retreat to. Under [American] protection, they[the Ukrainians] are arming and urging on extremists from a neighbouring country at Russia. Against Crimea, for instance. Do they think we’ll just watch on idly?”

Then came the threat. “If our western counterparts continue a clearly aggressive line, we will undertake proportionate military-technical countermeasures and will respond firmly to unfriendly steps. I’d like to stress we are fully entitled to do that.”

During a Commons debate on Thursday, Tobias Ellwood, the ex-Conservative defence minister said he did not believe the West had a coherent strategy to deal with Moscow’s aggression.

“With the West looking ever timid, ever divided and ever risk-adverse, with the United States looking ever distracted because of domestic issues, and Nato bruised after its retreat from Afghanistan, has there ever been a better time for Russia to invade Ukraine than in the forthcoming new year of the Orthodox calendar?” he asked.

One has to say, if Ellwood is thinking this, so too is Putin.

In the debate, Truss did not mince her words, saying this week’s talks were “absolutely critical” to the future of Europe’s peace and security.

The Foreign Secretary, due to visit Ukraine next month, insisted the UK would not accept Russia’s campaign to “subvert its democratic neighbours” using baseless rhetoric and disinformation.

“They have falsely cast Ukraine as a threat to justify their aggressive stance. They falsely accuse Nato of provocation; this could not be further from the truth. Russia is the aggressor here,” she insisted, referring to its troop build-up.

“There is no justification whatsoever for Russia’s bellicose stance towards Ukraine. It is unprovoked and it is part of a wider pattern of behaviour by the Kremlin, reliant on disinformation and mistrust to seek to gain an upper hand,” she added.

One suggestion is any new “high impact” sanctions will target Russia’s elite where it hurts, in its pockets, barring it from using the Swift messaging system used by scores of countries and thousands of banks to shift money across borders, which, doubtless, includes off-shore bank accounts. With Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, ruling out British boots on the ground, Government sources have mooted cyber-attacks as “another option”.

We can only hope that during all the jaw-jawing this week that good sense prevails and parties step back from military confrontation.

However, the western alliance must stand firm behind Ukraine’s sovereignty in the face of Russian aggression. Bullies can never be tolerated; if they are, there is no end to their malevolence.