Blinken urges Lavrov to exit Russia-Ukraine crisis diplomatically

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met his Russian counterpart on Thursday to warn him of the “serious consequences” that Russia would suffer if it invaded Ukraine and to urge him to seek a diplomatic exit from the crisis.

Blinken handed the warning to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at a meeting in Stockholm, a day after saying Washington was ready to react decisively, including with severe sanctions, in the event of a Russian attack.

“The best way to avoid the crisis is through diplomacy,” Blinken told reporters before entering talks with Lavrov at a time of heightened East-West tensions over Ukraine.

He said Moscow and Kiev should each fulfill their obligations under the 2014 Minsk peace process, which aimed to end a war between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces in eastern Russia. former soviet republic.

Washington was ready to facilitate this, Blinken said, but “if Russia decides to continue the confrontation, there will be serious consequences.”

Lavrov told reporters that Moscow was ready to engage in dialogue with Kiev. “We, as President (Vladimir) Putin said, do not want conflicts,” he said.

The two men spoke for about thirty minutes on the sidelines of a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Stockholm, at the highest level between the two parties since a summit between Putin and the president American Joe. Biden in June.

“If Moscow chooses the path of military escalation, Secretary (Blinken) has made it clear that the United States and our allies are prepared to impose significant costs,” State Department spokesman Ned said. Price.

A senior State Department official said Blinken and Lavrov had a “serious, sober and professional” meeting.

The official said there had been a constructive exchange on the implementation of the existing Minsk peace accords for eastern Ukraine as a possible way out of the crisis, and that an intense new diplomacy was likely in the next few days.

Breaking point

Ukraine claims Russia has amassed more than 90,000 troops near its long shared border, while Moscow accuses Kiev of continuing its own military build-up. He has dismissed as inflammatory suggestions that he is preparing for an attack on Ukraine and has defended his right to deploy troops in his own territory as he sees fit.

The Kremlin said on Thursday that the likelihood of a new conflict in eastern Ukraine remained high and that Moscow was concerned about Kiev’s “aggressive” rhetoric and an increase in what it called actions of. provocation along the line of contact between government forces and Russian pro-separatists.

Kiev has denied any intention of trying to take back rebel areas by force, accusing Russia of spouting “absurd propaganda” in order to cover up its own aggressive intentions.

Russia has separately said it has arrested three suspected Ukrainian intelligence operatives, including one accused of planning an attack using two homemade bombs, allegations Kiev has dismissed as fabricated.

Last week, the Ukrainian president said Kiev foiled a Russian-backed coup plot, which the Kremlin denied.

East-West relations have fallen to their lowest level since the Cold War and the fall of the USSR, a point accidentally emphasized by US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin when he said during a visit to Korea from South: “The best case … is that we won’t see a Soviet Union incursion into Ukraine.”

Ukraine’s tilt towards the West since the ouster of a pro-Russian president in 2014 has angered Moscow, which has said it will not accept Ukraine’s membership in the NATO or the stationing of NATO missiles that could threaten it.

Putin said this week that Russia is ready with a newly tested hypersonic weapon if the West deploys missiles in Ukraine that could strike Moscow within minutes.

In his OSCE address earlier Thursday, Lavrov said military tensions were mounting on the continent and that he hoped Russia’s proposals for a new European security pact would be carefully considered.

“The architecture of strategic stability is quickly destroyed, NATO refuses to consider constructively our proposals to defuse tensions and avoid dangerous incidents,” Lavrov said.

“On the contrary, the alliance’s military infrastructure is moving closer to Russia’s borders. The nightmarish scenario of military confrontation returns.

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Christi C. Elwood