Blinken Warns Russia to Halt Aggressive Moves Near Ukraine
(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. ratcheted up threats to retaliate as it accused Russia of intensifying preparations for a possible invasion of Ukraine, in the latest signs that tensions over Moscow’s military buildup on the border continue to spiral.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Wednesday at a NATO conference in Latvia that the U.S. would impose “high-impact economic measures that we’ve refrained from using in the past” if Russia invaded its neighbor.
But Russian President Vladimir Putin showed no sign he was deterred by weeks of warnings from the U.S. and its allies, accusing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization of menacing Russia. He demanded “legally binding” security guarantees that would keep NATO weapons out of Ukraine.
“The threat on our Western frontier is really growing,” Putin said at the Kremlin earlier Wednesday. “For us, this is more than serious.”
The Kremlin denies any plan to invade Ukraine and accuses the U.S. and NATO allies of provocative actions near Russia’s border.
Asked about Putin’s remarks, Blinken said at a news conference that the notion that Ukraine poses a threat to Russia “would be a bad joke if things weren’t so serious.”
The back-and-forth comments made clear that tensions only continue to escalate between the former Cold War foes, even as both insist they want to ease them. Also Wednesday, Russia announced more U.S. diplomats were being asked to leave the country, a tit-for-tat response to a U.S. move limiting the time that Russian diplomats can remain in the U.S.
Yet the two sides still appeared to hold out hope for a way out. The U.S. and Russia announced plans for the first direct contact between senior officials in weeks, with Blinken planning to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Thursday in Stockholm. Before that, Blinken will meet separately with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said Wednesday direct talks with Russia are the only way to resolve the conflict. But the Kremlin brushed off that appeal, saying Kyiv should negotiate with Russian-backed separatists in the east of the country, something Zelenskiy’s government has refused to do.
Russia said earlier this week it’s making preparations for a conversation between Putin and U.S. President Joe Biden. Biden said last week that he expects to speak to Putin soon, but the U.S. hasn’t given any details on timing.
Putin on Tuesday warned the West not to cross Russia’s security “red line” by stationing NATO military infrastructure in Ukraine. This would leave Moscow at the risk of attack in as little as five minutes and force his country to respond by taking countermeasures, he said. The U.S. and U.K. said any Russian incursion into Ukraine would trigger serious diplomatic and economic responses.
Both Blinken and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said they would welcome Ukraine joining the alliance so long as it met the necessary conditions.
“Russia has no veto, Russia has no say, and Russia has no right trying to create a sphere of influence to control their neighbors,” Stoltenberg told a news conference.
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