Blinken strives for a united European front with important allies in Ukraine

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to Berlin on Thursday for meetings with key European allies, as part of a whirlwind diplomatic tour to stop Russia from marching on Ukraine.

Blinken will strive for a united front with counterparts from France and Germany as well as Britain’s junior foreign minister before his crisis talks with Russia’s Sergei Lavrov on Friday.

He had begun his tour on Wednesday with a first stop in Kiev as a demonstration of support, urging Vladimir Putin to stay on a “diplomatic and peaceful path”.

In Washington, President Joe Biden said Russia would pay a heavy price to invade Ukraine, including a high human fee and deep damage to its economy.

“It will be a disaster for Russia,” Biden said, adding that Moscow could eventually win, but that its losses “would be huge.”

Biden insisted that Putin “still does not want a full-scale war,” but said the conflict “could easily get out of hand.”

And US leaders said he was open to a summit with Putin on the situation.

With tens of thousands of Russian troops gathered at the Ukrainian border, fears are growing that a major conflict could break out in Europe.

Biden sparked controversy on Wednesday when he suggested that “something significantly smaller than a significant invasion” should be met with a minor blow from NATO.

“It’s one thing if it’s a minor intrusion, and it ends up with us arguing about what to do and not to do, and so on,” he said.

But the White House was quick to clarify the comments, with press secretary Jen Psaki promising that all Russian movements in Ukraine would face “severe” reprisals.

Moscow insists it has no plans to invade, but has at the same time set a number of demands – including a ban on Ukraine joining NATO – in exchange for downsizing.

Washington has rejected Moscow’s demands as “non-starters” and NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg insisted this week that the alliance “will not compromise on core principles such as the right of every nation to choose its own path”.

The Western world has repeatedly warned Russia that it would pay a “high price” for economic and political sanctions if it invaded Ukraine.

With both sides’ positions anchored, a series of talks between Western and Russian officials in Geneva, Brussels and Vienna have failed to make any breakthrough.

Dialogue is preferred

NATO allies have signaled their willingness to continue talking, but Moscow has demanded a written response to its proposals for security guarantees.

On the Russian wish list are measures that would limit military activities in the former Warsaw Pact and former Soviet countries that joined NATO after the Cold War.

But in Kiev, Blinken said he would not present such a formal response to Friday’s talks with Lavrov in Geneva.

Rather, it is Putin’s responsibility to dispel fears that Moscow is planning an invasion of its pro-Western neighbor.

“I will not present (any) paper at that time to Foreign Minister Lavrov,” Blinken told reporters after meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

“We need to see where we are and see if there are opportunities left to pursue diplomacy and dialogue that, as I have said, is far superior,” he said.

Ukraine has been fighting Moscow-backed forces in two breakaway eastern regions since 2014, when Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine.

More than 13,000 people have been killed, and the latest Russian troop build-up has also rattled neighbors in the Baltics.

As an illustration of the rising stakes, Britain has said it would send defensive weapons to Ukraine as part of a package to help the country secure its borders.

Kiev has repeatedly appealed to Germany to send armaments, a call that has so far been rejected.

During her first visit to Ukraine on Monday, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Germany would “do everything possible to ensure Ukraine’s security”, but again rejected the call for arms deliveries.

In Berlin, the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, due to double supplies of cheap natural gas from Russia to Germany, could once again emerge as a problem among allies.

In the midst of recent tensions with Moscow, Chancellor Olaf Scholz has warned of the consequences for the pipeline, which is in operation but not yet in operation as it awaits approval from Germany’s energy regulator.

In a new saber race, Russian forces and those from the former Soviet Republic of Belarus, which also borders Ukraine, began joint military exercises.

A US official said the exercises could herald a permanent Russian military presence involving both conventional and nuclear forces in Belarus.

(AFP)

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