Russia planning ‘aggressive moves’ against Ukraine, Blinken says

Dec 2, 2021: Russia plans to launch a “significant aggressive moves” against Ukraine, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has warned, as tensions between Washington and Moscow escalate ahead of a high-level meeting this week.

After a meeting of NATO ministers in Riga, Latvia, on Wednesday, Blinken said the United States was “deeply concerned” about the evidence that Russia was planning major offensive measures against Ukraine.

Ukraine has accused Russia of deploying heavy armored vehicles, electronic warfare systems and tens of thousands of troops on the border – the second Russian military buildup so far this year. Blinken told reporters that the United States did not know whether Russian President Vladimir Putin had “decided to invade” Ukraine, however. The top US diplomat said, “We do know that he’s putting in place the capacity to do so on short order, should he so decide,” the top US diplomat said.

Blinken’s comments come a day before he will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe summit in Sweden on Thursday – and the Washington-led NATO talks on Ukraine.

In the background Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said earlier in the day that US embassy staff, who have been in Moscow for more than three years, were being evacuated in response to US action against 27 Russian diplomats.

Despite efforts to ease tensions between Washington and Moscow earlier this year, relations are under increasing pressure amid Western concerns about Russian troop build-up near Ukraine.

In 2014, Moscow annexed Crimea from Kiev and Russian-backed separatists seized a swath of territory in eastern Ukraine, igniting a conflict that continues to simmer to this day.

Earlier this week, Putin said at a forum in Moscow that any expansion of NATO military infrastructure in Ukraine was a red line he hoped would not be crossed. On Wednesday, the Russian president emphasised that the country would seek “reliable and long-term security guarantees”.

On Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Kyiv needed direct talks with Moscow to end the tensions and put a stop to the conflict in the country’s east.

Ukraine is not a member of NATO, but Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dymitry Koliba has called on the Transatlantic Security Alliance to form a “deterrence package” to counter Russian aggression and increase military cooperation with Ukraine. Russian officials have previously said Moscow’s stance on Ukraine is purely defensive and have accused Kiev of plotting to retake pro-Russian rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian officials have denied the allegations.

On Wednesday, Blinken warned that President Joe Biden’s administration had made it clear to Russia that the United States would respond “strongly” if it “took the path of confrontation” with Ukraine, including high-impact economic measures.

He did not go into further details about what exact measures could be taken, but said they would have “far-reaching and long-lasting consequences”.

There is “tremendous solidarity” within NATO to pursue strong measures if Russia invades Ukraine, Blinken also said. “Should Russia reject diplomacy and reinvade Ukraine, we will be prepared to act.”

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