US Secretary of State Antony Blinken came in Kyiv on Wednesday as part of a nonstop diplomatic campaign to reduce tensions with Russia over Ukraine, warning that Russia may launch a fresh offensive at “very short notice.”
After seeing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Blinken will go to Berlin for meetings with allies before heading to Geneva to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, after last week’s discussions failed to generate a breakthrough.
Russia has amassed tens of thousands of troops on Ukraine’s borders, prompting Kiev and its allies to fear a fresh military attack against Ukraine.
To add to the unease, Russia pushed extra troops into Belarus this week ahead of joint drills scheduled for next month, according to Minsk. Moscow denies any intentions for an assault, but has urged Washington for security assurances, including a ban on Ukraine joining NATO.
Blinken told diplomats at the US embassy in Kyiv that he believes Russia would adhere to a diplomatic and peaceful route when he meets Lavrov, but he also cautioned that Russian President Vladimir Putin might issue the order to attack at any time.
“As you all know very, very well, we have been engaged in the past couple of months in an intense focus on Ukraine because of the significant buildup we’ve seen of Russian forces we’ve seen near the Ukrainian border,” Blinken said.
The Russian buildup, he said, was taking place with “no provocation, no reason.”
“We know that there are plans in place to increase that force even more on very short notice, and that gives President Putin the capacity, also on very short notice, to take further aggressive action against Ukraine,” Blinken said.
Russia’s actions had attracted the attention of Washington, and also of its allies in Europe and beyond, he said.
U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration last month approved the provision of an additional $200 million in defensive security assistance to Ukraine and gave more such aid last year than at any point since Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
U.S. SUPPORT FOR UKRAINE
State Department spokesman Ned Price said Blinken’s visit was “to reiterate our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”. Washington has warned Russia of severe consequences if it mounts a new offensive, while promising to beef up its security presence in Europe.
“Should Russia further invade Ukraine, we will provide additional defensive material to the Ukrainians above and beyond that which we are already in the process of providing,” a State Department official said ahead of Blinken’s arrival.
Blinken will meet Zelenskiy and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Wednesday.
Then in Berlin he will meet German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and later the Transatlantic Quad, referring to a format that involves the United States, Britain, France and Germany.
Germany signalled on Tuesday that it could halt the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia if Moscow invades Ukraine.
Blinken spoke with Lavrov on Tuesday and the two decided in the call that it would be useful to meet in person.
Lavrov separately said Moscow would welcome U.S. diplomatic efforts and reiterated Russian accusations that Ukraine was “sabotaging” agreements aimed at ending the conflict between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine.
Despite diplomatic engagements this month, Washington has yet to see Russia de-escalate tensions and Moscow could launch an attack on Ukraine at any time in January or February, a senior U.S. official said earlier.
“We are now at a stage where Russia could at any point launch an attack on Ukraine,” the official said
Kyiv has sought weapons from Western nations to shore up its defence. On Monday, Britain said it had begun supplying Ukraine with anti-tank weapons to help it defend itself.