WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken said Thursday that President Biden will “likely” speak directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin “in the near future” as part of an insane diplomatic effort to stave off what Western officials fear. there could be a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Mr Blinken spoke to reporters in Stockholm on Thursday, shortly after meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei V. Lavrov on the sidelines of the annual meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Mr Blinken said that he had “clearly and directly” informed Mr Lavrov of America’s concerns about unusual troop movements and other threatening moves by Moscow, which appear to herald a Russian invasion of its neighbor, the former Soviet republic, whose independence and ties with the West, Putin is outraged.
Blinken warned that the United States will work with allies to “impose serious costs and consequences on Russia if it takes further aggressive action against Ukraine.” He said it could be “important economic measures that we have refrained from in the past,” but declined to provide further details.
Mr. Lavrov came with his threats. Echoing recent warnings from Mr. Putin, Mr. Lavrov said that “the involvement of Ukraine in the US geopolitical games against the background of the deployment of NATO forces in the immediate vicinity of our borders will have the most serious consequences,” Lavrov said. Statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry after a meeting with Mr Blinken.
Mr Lavrov reiterated Mr Putin’s demand for “long-term security guarantees” on Russia’s western borders, which the Russian president on Wednesday defined as agreements that Ukraine will never join NATO and that the alliance’s weapons systems will not be based there. Mr. Lavrov said that otherwise Russia would be ready to take “retaliatory measures to adjust the military-strategic balance,” the statement said.
As Russia increasingly speaks of threats from NATO, Mr Blinken warned that Russia could fabricate a provocation to justify military action against Ukraine. On Thursday, he told reporters that “despite a massive Russian disinformation campaign, Ukraine in no way poses a threat to Russia.”
“The only threat is a renewed Russian aggression against Ukraine,” said Mr Blinken.
Neither Blinken nor the White House provided further details on any Biden-Putin conversation. Kremlin officials had anticipated this possibility for days, but Blinken’s remark was Washington’s first clear indication that Biden was serious about the idea.
The two presidents met in person in June amid similar concerns over a possible Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine, where Russian forces have long supported a pro-Moscow separatist insurgency. Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula of Ukraine in 2014, which the US still does not recognize.
Russian troops withdrew in part shortly before the meeting between Mr Biden and Mr Putin in Geneva, leading some analysts to speculate that Mr Putin created the crisis in part to secure a meeting with the new American president.
Biden officials said at the time that the summit’s goal was in large part to return the Kremlin to a more stable and predictable footing. But the relationship remains poisoned.
In brief comments to reporters ahead of his private meeting with Mr. Blinken, Mr. Lavrov also mentioned an altercation with the United States involving diplomatic personnel. On Wednesday, Russia ordered American diplomats, who had been in Moscow for more than three years, to fly out of the country by January 31. The move came just days after the Russian ambassador to Washington announced that 27 Russian diplomats and their families had been forced to leave the country. USA by the end of January.
In a daily briefing on Thursday, State Department deputy spokeswoman Jalina Porter said Russian diplomats must leave the country in accordance with policies that limit their stay in the country to three years. “What is happening is not expulsion,” she said, adding that new diplomats could take their place.
The US diplomatic presence in Russia has declined sharply over the past few years amid growing tensions between Washington and Moscow. The State Department closed its last two consulates in Russia a year ago, citing a cap on the number of diplomatic personnel imposed by Moscow following a round of US sanctions in 2018.
Even while managing the crisis on Ukraine’s eastern border, Mr. Blinken also led diplomacy over Iran’s nuclear program as a new round of negotiations continued in Vienna with no visible progress. The talks are aimed at rebuilding the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018.
On Thursday, Blinken received an unusual call from Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who informed him that Iran was engaged in “nuclear blackmail” and called for an “immediate end to negotiations” in Vienna.
Mr Blinken downplayed the appeal, stating that he and Mr Bennett had a positive conversation and agreed on the goal of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
He added that Iran’s recent rhetoric and moves to accelerate its nuclear program “do not give us much reason to be optimistic,” but said that “it is not too late for Iran to change course.”
Anton Troyanovsky provided a report from Moscow.