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Secretary of State Blinken meets with Russian counterpart in bid to prevent Ukraine invasion

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken gives a press conference in Geneva on January 21, 2022 after meeting Russian Foreign Minister.

Fabrice Coffrini | AFP | Getty Images

WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Antony Blinken told his Russian counterpart Friday that the Kremlin could defuse tensions and concerns about a potential invasion by removing an extraordinary deployment of troops and equipment away from Ukraine’s borders.

The meeting between Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov came as Western officials, including President Joe Biden, have said they expect Moscow to launch an incursion into Ukraine. U.S. intelligence has indicated Russia could attack within a month’s time.

The U.S. is not convinced of Russia’s claim that it is not preparing for an invasion of its ex-Soviet neighbor, Blinken said.

“If Russia wants to begin to convince the world that it has no aggressive intent toward Ukraine, a very good place to start would be by de-escalating by bringing back and removing these forces from Ukraine’s borders,” Blinken told reporters following a 90-minute meeting with Lavrov in Geneva.

“We and all of our allies and partners are equally committed to making sure we are doing everything possible to make clear to Russia that there will be a swift, severe and united response to any form of aggression by Russia directed to Ukraine,” Blinken added.

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Meanwhile, Russian officials have repeatedly called on the U.S. to prevent an eastward expansion of NATO, the world’s most powerful military alliance.

Russia has also demanded that the U.S. “shall not establish military bases” in the territories of any former Soviet states that are not already members of NATO, or “use their infrastructure for any military activities or develop bilateral military cooperation with them.”

Since 2002, Ukraine has sought entry into NATO, where the group’s Article 5 clause states that an attack on one member country is considered an attack on all of them.

When asked about those demands on Friday, Blinken said that the U.S., as well as the NATO alliance, would not negotiate the terms of member entry with the Kremlin.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov move to their seats before their meeting, in Geneva, Switzerland, January 21, 2022.

Russian Foreign Ministry | via Reuters

Before heading to Switzerland, Blinken met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in Kyiv in order to reaffirm Washington’s commitment to a sovereign Ukraine. The nation’s top diplomat then traveled to Berlin to meet with German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock to discuss joint efforts to deter further Russian aggression against Ukraine.

“These are difficult issues we’re facing. Resolving them won’t happen quickly. I certainly don’t expect we’ll solve them in Geneva,” Blinken said while in Berlin. “But we can advance our mutual understanding. And that, combined with de-escalation of Russia’s military buildup on Ukraine’s borders — that can turn us away from this crisis in the weeks ahead,” he added.

Blinken’s trip comes on the heels of multiple high-stakes discussions between U.S. and European officials and their Russian counterparts. Following those meetings, the Biden administration accused Russia of preparing a “false flag operation” to use as a prelude for an invasion of Ukraine. Russia has denied any such preparations.

“We are now at a stage where Russia could at any point launch an attack on Ukraine,” a senior State Department official said on a conference call with reporters on Tuesday.

“President Putin created this crisis by enacting 100,000 Russian troops along Ukraine’s borders. This includes moving Russian forces into Belarus over the weekend. This is neither an exercise nor a normal troop movement. It is a show of strength designed to cause or give a false pretext for a crisis as Russia plans for a possible invasion,” the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to share details of the trip, added.

A militant of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) observes the area at fighting positions on the line of separation from the Ukrainian armed forces near the rebel-controlled settlement of Yasne (Yasnoye) in Donetsk region, Ukraine January 14, 2022.

Alexander Ermochenko | Reuters

Earlier this week, Biden said that he expects Russian President Vladimir Putin to order an invasion of Ukraine, and warned that “a disaster” awaits Russia if that happened.

Biden’s remarks came after intelligence agencies warned such an attack could happen within a month.

“My guess is he will move in, he has to do something,” Biden said on Wednesday when asked about the Russian forces positioned along Ukraine’s border.

“It is going to be a disaster for Russia if they further invade Ukraine. Our allies and partners are ready to impose a severe cost on Russia and the Russian economy,” Biden said during his second solo news conference since he took office.

“And I think he’ll regret having done it,” Biden added.


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