Blinken warns ‘swift and firm response’ if Russia recognizes ‘independent’ eastern Ukraine

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday warned of a “swift and firm response” from the U.S. and its allies if Russian President Vladimir Putin moved to recognize territories in eastern Ukraine that have been locked in conflict since 2014 as “independent.” 

Blinken said that an appeal from the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, for Putin to recognize the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine as independent would violate the Minsk agreements, an international effort agreed to in 2015 to end fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists in the region.

“Enactment of this resolution would further undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, constitute a gross violation of international law, call into further question Russia’s stated commitment to continue to engage in diplomacy to achieve a peaceful resolution of this crisis,” Blinken said, adding that such a move would “necessitate a swift and firm response from the United States in full coordination with our Allies and partners.”

Blinken’s statement appears to raise the cost on Russia by laying out further how the U.S. and allies could respond to defend Ukraine’s sovereignty short of the risk of a large-scale Russian invasion.  

Russia recognizing the territory as independent could provide the Kremlin with a pretext to send Russian soldiers into the region to aid an ally. Russia has reportedly provided an estimated 600,000 Russian passports to residents in the area, provided COVID-19 relief, financial aid, covert military support and has an estimated 2,000 of its own forces in the region, although the Kremlin denies this.

Blinken said enactment of the State Duma resolution would inflame tensions at a time when the U.S. and its allies and partners are working to pull Putin back from the brink of potentially launching a large-scale invasion into Ukraine. 

President Biden on Wednesday said that a Russian “invasion remains distinctly possible,” citing an estimated 150,000 Russian troops stationed in and around Ukraine’s borders. Russia holds control of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, which it invaded in 2014 and later annexed. There, Russia provides support to separatist groups in Ukraine’s east, where an estimated 15,000 people have been killed in the fighting. 

Russia has denied that it aims to invade Ukraine but said that Kyiv’s desire to join NATO and the alliance itself is an unacceptable security threat. 

The U.S. has offered diplomatic talks to discuss security concerns for Washington and Moscow and steps both sides can take to reduce tensions.

Putin has signaled in recent days he is open to ongoing diplomatic talks and his defense officials have said that Russian troops are beginning to draw down, describing their buildup along Ukraine as large-scale military exercises. 

Neither the U.S. nor NATO has yet to confirm Russian troops are pulling back from Ukraine’s borders.  

Tags annexation of Crimea Antony Blinken Joe Biden Russia-Ukraine conflict Russian military buildup Vladimir Putin Volodymr Zelensky

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