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Tuesday, January 18, 2022 2:10 pm

Blinken to meet with senior Russian as Ukraine tensions soar

MATTHEW LEE | Associated Press

 

WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet with his Russian counterpart in Switzerland this week as tensions between the U.S. and Russia escalate over a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine, the State Department said Tuesday.

The State Department said Blinken will travel to Kyiv on Wednesday to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, move on to Berlin and then meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva on Friday. The hastily arranged trip aims to show U.S. support for Ukraine and impress on Russia the need for de-escalation.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki underscored the urgency.

“We’re now at a stage where Russia could at any point launch an attack in Ukraine. And what Secretary Blinken is going to go do is highlight very clearly there is a diplomatic path forward,” she said.

Psaki said Russian President Vladimir Putin created the crisis by massing 100,000 troops along Ukraine's borders, and it is up to him and the Russians to decide whether to invade and then “suffer severe economic consequences."

The U.S. has not concluded whether Putin plans to invade or whether the show of force is intended to squeeze security concessions without an actual conflict. Russia has brushed off calls to withdraw its troops by saying it has a right to deploy its forces wherever it likes on its own territory.

Blinken's meetings follow inconclusive diplomatic talks between Russia and the West in Europe last week that failed to resolve stark disagreements about Ukraine and other security matters.

Instead, those meetings appear to have increased fears of a Russian invasion, and the Biden administration has accused Russia of preparing a “false flag operation" to use as a pretext for intervention. Russia has angrily denied the charge.

From Kyiv, Blinken will travel to Berlin, where he will meet with his German, British and French counterparts to discuss a possible response to any Russian military action.

In Geneva, Switzerland, on Friday, Blinken will be testing Lavrov on Russia's interest in a “diplomatic off-ramp” for the crisis, a senior State Department official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Blinken’s “travel and consultations are part of the diplomatic efforts to de-escalate the tension caused by Russia’s military build-up and continued aggression against Ukraine,” the State Department said in a statement.

Blinken will meet with Zelenskyy and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Wednesday “to reinforce the United States’ commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the State Department said.

“The trip follows extensive diplomacy with our European Allies and partners about a united approach to address the threat Russia poses to Ukraine and our joint efforts to encourage it to choose diplomacy and de-escalation in the interests of security and stability,” it said.

 

Vladimir Isachenkov of the Associated Press in Moscow contributed to this story.

   

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