Blinken to visit Ukraine as US-Russian tensions escalate

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to Ukraine this week and meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as tensions between the United States and Russia escalate over a possible Russian invasion of its neighbor, the State Department said Tuesday.

Blinken will be in Kyiv for a hastily organized trip to show US support after inconclusive diplomatic talks between Moscow and the West in Europe last week, which failed to resolve deep disagreements over Ukraine and other security issues.

Instead, those meetings appear to have heightened fears of a Russian invasion, and the Biden administration has accused Russia of plotting a “false flag operation.” serve as a pretext for intervention. Russia angrily denied the accusation.

“Blinken’s travels and consultations are part of diplomatic efforts to defuse the tension caused by Russia’s military buildup and continued aggression against Ukraine,” the State Department said in a statement.

From Kiev, Blinken will travel to Berlin, where he will meet his German, British and French counterparts to discuss a possible response to any Russian military action. Russia has massed some 100,000 troops with tanks and other heavy weapons on its own soil near the Ukrainian border in what many observers believe is preparation for an invasion.

Blinken will meet with Zelenskyy and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Wednesday “to reinforce the United States’ commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the State Department said in a statement.

“The trip follows extensive diplomacy with our European allies and partners on a united approach to addressing the threat Russia poses to Ukraine and our joint efforts to encourage it to choose diplomacy and de-escalation in the interest in security and stability,” the department said. .

On Monday, the head of Russian diplomacy rejected American allegations that he was preparing a pretext to invade Ukraine. Speaking to reporters, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dismissed the US allegation as “total misinformation”.

Lavrov reiterated that Russia expects this week a written response from the United States and its allies to Moscow’s request for binding guarantees that NATO will not embrace Ukraine or any other ex-Soviet country or will not station its forces and its weapons.

Washington and its allies firmly rejected Moscow’s demands during last week’s US-Russian talks in Geneva and a related NATO-Russia meeting in Brussels.

The White House said on Friday that US intelligence officials had concluded that Russia had already deployed agents in rebel-held eastern Ukraine to carry out acts of sabotage there and blamed them on Ukraine for creating a pretext for a possible invasion.

Prior to Blinken’s visit to Kiev, a delegation of US senators was traveling to Ukraine to underscore Congress’ support for the country.

“Our bipartisan delegation to Congress sends a clear message to the global community: The United States steadfastly supports our Ukrainian partners in defending their sovereignty and in the face of continued Russian aggression,” said Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire. in a report.

Speaking on a visit to Kyiv on Monday, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock warned that “any further escalation will come at a high price for the Russian regime – economic, political and strategic”, and she stressed the need to continue negotiations.

“We are ready to have a serious dialogue with Russia, because diplomacy is the only way to defuse this highly dangerous situation at the moment,” she said.

Russia seizes the Crimean peninsula after ousting the pro-Moscow Ukrainian leader and in 2014 also backed a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine. More than 14,000 people have been killed in nearly eight years of fighting between Russian-backed rebels and Ukrainian forces in the country’s industrial heartland called Donbas.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that Moscow will take unspecified “military-technical measures” if the West blocks its demands.

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