Blinken to meet with Russian foreign minister amid tensions over Ukraine

Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva on Friday, marking a significant, high-level diplomatic engagement as the U.S. seeks to pull back Russia from the brink of a potential invasion of Ukraine.

The meeting was scheduled after Blinken and Lavrov spoke by phone on Tuesday, a senior State Department official said, elaborating that the engagement in Geneva was added to the end of the secretary’s previously scheduled travel to Kyiv on Wednesday and Berlin on Thursday.

The meeting comes following a week of intensive diplomatic discussions between the U.S., allies and partners in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Europe, and the Russians in an effort to defuse tensions.

The official said the meeting between Blinken and Lavrov “suggests that perhaps diplomacy is not dead”, in response to comments by Russian officials at the end of the meetings in Europe that the discussions had reached a “dead-end.”  

But the official reiterated heightened concerns that Russia has positioned itself to launch an imminent invasion of Ukraine, with its massing of more than 100,000 troops along its border with the former Soviet state and warnings from the White House that Moscow had positioned resources to carry out a “false flag” operation, possibly staging an attack on its own proxy forces in Ukraine’s east, to create a pretext for invasion.

Further enflaming tensions was an announcement by Belarus on Tuesday that it would participate in military exercises with Moscow.

“This is neither an exercise nor normal troop movement,” said the senior State Department official, who said it could be “designed to cause or give false pretext for a crisis as Russia plans for a possible invasion.”

Blinken “personally, really is committed to seeing if there is a possible diplomatic off-ramp to this crisis,” the official said, but added that Russia’s motives remain unclear. 

“I think it is still too early to tell if the Russian government is genuinely interested in diplomacy, if it is prepared to negotiate seriously in good faith, or whether it will use discussions as a pretext to claim that diplomacy didn’t address Moscow’s interests,” the official said. “You know, I just can’t judge that now. But I do understand the desire on our side to test that hypothesis, and if there is an opportunity to craft a diplomatic solution here, we certainly will put all of our energy into trying to realize that.”