By Nike Ching and Wayne Lee
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will urge Russia to “take immediate steps to de-escalate” tensions along its border with Ukraine in a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva Friday.
Blinken is heading to Ukraine this week for talks with the country’s president amid continued fears that Russia is planning to invade its neighbor.
“We are now at a stage where Russia could at any point launch an attack on Ukraine,” said a senior State Department official, adding that the U.S. continues to “prepare for a different outcome” if Moscow does decide to pursue further military aggression against Ukraine.
Russia has continued its troop buildup and its harsh rhetoric against Ukraine, moving Russian forces into Belarus over the weekend.
“Diplomacy is not dead,” the senior State Department official told reporters during a call briefing on Tuesday, adding that “the U.S. side believes the only way to solve this conflict successfully is through diplomacy.”
Blinken spoke with Lavrov on Tuesday to stress “the importance of continuing a diplomatic path to de-escalate tensions surrounding the deeply troubling Russian military buildup in and near Ukraine,” the State Department said in a statement about the conversation.
“The secretary reiterated the unshakable U.S. commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and underscored that any discussion of European security must include NATO Allies and European partners, including Ukraine,” the statement added.
The State Department said earlier Tuesday the quickly arranged trip has Blinken scheduled to meet Wednesday in Kyiv with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.
Blinken will then travel on to Berlin to with German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock “to discuss recent diplomatic engagements with Russia and joint efforts to deter further Russian aggression against Ukraine,” the State Department said.
The buildup of an estimated 100,000 Russian troops along Ukraine’s eastern border has raised fears Moscow is planning military action against its neighbor, which was once part of the Russian-led Soviet Union. Russia seized the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.
Blinken’s trip follows talks in Geneva last week between Russian and U.S. officials aimed at settling differences over Ukraine and other security issues. No progress was reported.
Russia has demanded guarantees that Ukraine will never join NATO.
Last week the Biden administration accused Moscow of preparing a “false flag operation” for use as a ploy for intervention in Ukraine, a charge Russia has angrily denied.
A U.S. delegation visited Kyiv on Monday to show support for Ukraine amid the standoff with Russia.
U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, told VOA’s Ukrainian Service, “We have Democrats and Republicans of very different political views here to say we stand with Ukraine, and if Vladimir Putin chooses to take this treacherous anti-democratic path of invading this country, there will be severe and swift sanctions.”
U.S. Senator Kevin Cramer, a Republican, told VOA, “The United States won’t just sit idly by and be a bystander if something happens. What we would like to do is prevent it from happening. We want to be a deterrent. We want to be part of the solution before fighting commences.”