U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that Russia appears to be planning to take military action against neighboring Ukraine and warned Moscow of consequences if it moved forward with acts of aggression.
“We are deeply concerned by evidence that Russia has made plans for significant aggressive moves against Ukraine, plans (that) include efforts to destabilize Ukraine from within, as well as large-scale military operations,” Blinken said at a news conference in Riga, Latvia, after meeting with NATO foreign ministers.
Blinken said “in recent weeks,” Moscow stepped up preparations that included positioning tens of thousands of additional troops near the border it shares with Ukraine.
He warned the Kremlin that “we will respond resolutely, including with a range of high-impact economic measures that we’ve refrained from using in the past.”
Blinken’s remarks came shortly after NATO foreign ministers expressed solidarity against any Russian aggression toward Ukraine, and the United States confirmed plans for Blinken to hold separate meetings with his counterparts from both countries.
A State Department official said the meetings with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will take place Thursday in Stockholm, Sweden, on the sidelines of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe ministerial gathering.
Kuleba on Wednesday urged NATO to pursue a three-prong strategy to deter Russia that includes preparing economic sanctions and boosting military support to Ukraine.
Both Russia and Ukraine in recent days have accused the other side of massing troops in the area along their shared border. Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and has backed separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told members of parliament Wednesday that the only way to resolve the conflict with pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine’s Donbas region is through direct negotiations with the Russian government.
“We must tell the truth that we will not be able to stop the war without direct negotiations with Russia,” Zelenskiy said.
In Moscow Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said his military may be forced to respond if NATO’s expansion of Ukraine’s military infrastructure crosses “red lines.”
Karen Donfried, the top U.S. diplomat for European affairs, told reporters in a telephone briefing last week that while in Stockholm, Blinken would also be discussing the situation in Belarus.
The European Union accuses Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of enticing thousands of migrants, mainly from the Middle East, to travel to Belarus and try to cross into Latvia, Lithuania and Poland to destabilize those countries. The EU says Lukashenko is retaliating for sanctions it imposed against his government.
Blinken said Tuesday the U.S., in coordination with the EU, is preparing additional sanctions against Belarus for what he called “its ongoing attacks on democracy, on human rights, on international norms.”
In response to a question from VOA, Blinken said he and Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics focused “on the actions unfortunately Belarus has been taking both in terms of repressing its own people and their democratic aspirations, as well as using migration as a weapon to try to sow division and destabilization in Europe.”
“We are in close coordination with the European Union preparing all U.N. sanctions,” Blinken told reporters.
Alex Yanevskyy contributed to this report.