Blinken arrives in Ukraine, says Russia could attack at short notice

Blinken will meet Ukrainian President
Volodymyr Zelenskiy and then travel to Berlin for talks with allies before
going to Geneva to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov after
negotiations last week produced no breakthrough.

Russia has massed tens of thousands of troops
near Ukraine’s borders in what Kyiv and its allies fear could be preparation
for a new military offensive against Ukraine.

Adding to the jitters, Russia moved additional
troops into Belarus this week ahead of what Minsk said were planned joint
exercises next month. Moscow denies plans to launch an attack but has pressed
Washington for security guarantees, including a block on Ukraine joining the
NATO alliance.

Speaking to diplomats at the US embassy in
Kyiv, Blinken said he strongly hopes that Russia can stick to a diplomatic and
peaceful path when he meets Lavrov, and warned that Russian President Vladimir
Putin could give the order to attack at short notice.

“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.

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US 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.


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 US
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 US official
said earlier.

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“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.

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