| 18 July 2024, Thursday |

No sign of Russian intent to change tack on Ukraine war, Blinken says

Russia shows no sign of changing direction in its war on Ukraine, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday, as foreign ministers from two dozen countries met in Indonesia’s capital for Southeast Asia’s annual security-focused gathering.

Top diplomats from China, the United States and Russia were among those who travelled to Jakarta for the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), where broad-based agendas are typically hijacked by geopolitical flare-ups.

Speaking to reporters after the talks concluded, Blinken said there was no indication that Russia was willing to engage in meaningful diplomacy on the war, which Moscow calls a “special military operation” launched in February 2022 to “denazify” its neighbor.

“I didn’t hear anything from Foreign Minister (Sergei) Lavrov that suggested any change in direction when it comes to what Russia is doing in Ukraine,” Blinken said, adding that Russia was focused on blaming the United States for the world’s problems.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said separately Lavrov had “aggressively” rejected a call to withdraw troops from Ukraine.

Lavrov said earlier this week the war would not end until the West “gives up its plans to preserve its domination”, including its “obsessive desire” to defeat Russia strategically.

He had no plans to contact US counterparts while in Jakarta, according to his spokesperson, Maria Zakharova.

But Lavrov did meet top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi. The two sides would “strengthen strategic communication and coordination”, according to the Chinese foreign ministry.

Other issues that dominated the talks in Indonesia were North Korea’s missile launches, US-China rivalry and the ongoing crisis in Myanmar.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said the forum had agreed to “strengthen preventive diplomacy”.

“Sharpening rivalry continues to divide the region. Our region also hosts numerous potential flashpoints. This challenge is becoming more complicated,” she said.

The closed-door ARF brings together the foreign ministers of Australia, Japan, Britain, India, South Korea, China, the United States and more.

US-China rivalry

Blinken called for stability in the Indo-Pacific, the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea, adding there was “no greater challenge” to regional security than North Korea’s “provocative” missile launches.

“We need to work together to end North Korea’s unlawful weapons of mass destruction program and ballistic missile launches,” he said.

Blinken on Thursday held what the State Department called “candid and constructive” talks with Chinese diplomat Wang, the latest in a series of interactions it said were aimed at managing differences between the two big powers.

Wang had told Blinken “a rational and pragmatic attitude” was key to getting their relations on the right track.

US-China sparring marred last year’s ARF, which came a few days after then US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, enraging Beijing, which launched live-fire drills around the self-ruled island and cut off several channels of dialogue with Washington. China claims the island as its own.

On Thursday, Chinese fighter jets monitored a US Navy patrol plane that flew through the sensitive Taiwan Strait, as China carried out military exercises south of the island.

Myanmar crisis

The forum roundly condemned Myanmar’s ruling military for alleged atrocities against the civilian population.

Myanmar has seen escalating violence since the military seized power in a 2021 coup and unleashed a lethal crackdown on opponents, including deploying fighter jets and heavy artillery to flush out pro-democracy fighters.

The country’s generals have been barred from the bloc’s meetings over their failure to honor a two-year-old deal with the grouping to end hostilities and start dialogue, which has tested ASEAN’s unity.

The bloc late on Thursday “strongly condemned the continued acts of violence, including air strikes, artillery shelling, and destruction of public facilities” in a communique issued more than 30 hours after foreign ministers concluded their meeting, a delay that has in previous years indicated discord.

  • Asharq Al-Awsat