Blinken to meet with Russian, Ukrainian counterparts amid heightened tensions

Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenUS readying financial sanctions on pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine: report US sanctions Lebanese tourism company, Hezbollah members for ties to terrorism  White House says Russia could launch attack in Ukraine 'at any point' MORE said he will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Thursday as he gave some of the starkest comments yet on Moscow’s intentions to possibly invade Ukraine.

In a news conference after a meeting of NATO’s foreign ministers in Latvia on Wednesday, Blinken said he will meet with the diplomats at a summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. 

The meeting comes as the U.S. and NATO warn that Russia may be planning to invade Ukraine, as it did before annexing the Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

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Blinken warned that Russia has “stepped up planning for potential military action in Ukraine, including positioning tens of thousands of additional combat forces near the Ukrainian border.”

“We don’t know whether President [Vladimir] Putin has made the decision to invade,” he continued. “We do know that he is putting in place the capacity to do so on short order should he so decide.”

Blinken added that the U.S. would responds “resolutely” to any effort to destabilize Ukraine, “including with a range of high impact economic measures that we have refrained from using in the past.”

“We are prepared to impose severe costs for further Russian aggression in Ukraine,” he said.

Wednesday marked the conclusion of NATO’s two-day foreign ministers meeting. On Tuesday, several of the ministers affirmed that the alliance would stand behind Ukraine amid any Russian efforts to destabilize the country.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also warned that “there will be a high price to pay” if Russia uses force against Ukraine. 

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Russia has insisted that its military movements have been defensive, and that Kyiv had aggressive intentions. Most recently, Moscow said that Ukraine had deployed half of its troops to the border between the two countries. 

Putin said Wednesday that Moscow would seek “reliable and long-term security guarantees” from the U.S. and allies, including agreements to prevent NATO forces moving east and weapons being deployed in close vicinity to Russia, The Associated Press reported

Asked about Putin’s comment, Blinken said “quite frankly, it’s perplexing.”

“The idea that Ukraine represents a threat to Russia would be a bad joke if things weren’t so serious,” Blinken said. “NATO itself is a defensive alliance. We’re not a threat to Russia, we don’t have aggressive intent toward Russia.”