Blinken decries coordinated Russian destabilizing efforts

Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenUkraine receives second batch of weapons from US: 'And this is not the end' Blinken: State Dept tracking US Embassy personnel in Kyiv 'very, very closely' Pope notes 'rising tensions' in Ukraine, calls for talks MORE on Friday said the U.S. and European allies are determined to “stand resolutely against” increasing and coordinated Russian aggression in the region, during an interview with Reuters. 

The secretary raised concerns that Russia is coordinating its destabilizing activities, including the building of forces on its border with Ukraine, the threat of holding back natural gas to Europe this winter and the support of Belarus’s weaponization of migrants on European borders. 

“I think these things are joined,” Blinken said.

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“But here's what's important — in everything that I heard from talking to European colleagues in the last few days, at NATO, and then at the [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe], there is not just the shared concern about what Russia is doing, but a determination to stand resolutely against it.”

Blinken reiterated that President BidenJoe BidenUS threatens sweeping export controls against Russian industries Headaches intensify for Democrats in Florida US orders families of embassy staff in Ukraine to leave country MORE expects to convey to Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinUS threatens sweeping export controls against Russian industries German military official who said it's 'easy' to give Putin the respect he probably 'deserves' resigns US orders families of embassy staff in Ukraine to leave country MORE that Moscow risks “serious consequences” if it fails to de-escalate the situation on the border with Ukraine, where Kyiv estimates about 94,000 Russian troops have amassed since November.

The secretary’s comments follow earlier remarks by Biden that his administration is working on a “set of initiatives” to make it “very, very, difficult” for Putin to invade Ukraine.

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, speaking with the Brookings Institution on Friday, also reinforced a tough stance by the administration. 

“Should Putin take action, virtually everything will be on the table,” she said. 

Russia refutes that its military buildup is provocative, saying it is taking defensive measures against Ukraine’s closer alliance with the West and aspirations to join NATO.

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Blinken described this argument as a paradox, saying if Putin has concerns about NATO, which he described as a transparent, defensive alliance, then Moscow must cease aggressive behavior.

“Don't engage in actions that are provocative and that will cause a defensive alliance to shore up its defenses,” the secretary said.

Separately, the U.S., European Union, the United Kingdom and Canada on Thursday announced coordinated sanctions against dozens of Belarusian entities and individuals which they say are responsible for human rights abuses related to the migrant crisis.

Migrants have been arriving from a number of countries to Belarus with the promise of refuge in Germany and other European Union member states. Many have been left in dire humanitarian conditions at the nation's borders with Poland and Lithuania.

Another concern is the threat posed by Russia's control over the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which delivers natural gas to Europe.

The U.S. has imposed sanctions on entities involved in the construction of the pipeline amid long-standing opposition that Russia’s control of energy delivery to Europe isolates Ukraine from reaping significant economic benefits of its own energy delivery to the continent, while also posing a security risk given Moscow’s provocative behavior. 

Yet Washington has largely refrained from opposing the pipeline's operation in order to maintain positive relations with Germany, which supports the pipeline.