As tensions between the US and Russia rise about a possible Russian invasion of its neighbor, Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit Ukraine this week and meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the State Department said Tuesday.
Blinken will be in Kyiv on a hurriedly scheduled trip to express US support following last week’s unproductive diplomatic discussions in Europe between Moscow and the West, which failed to address significant differences over Ukraine and other security issues.
Instead, the Biden administration has accused Russia of planning a “false flag operation” to serve as a pretext for action as a result of those conversations. Russia has vehemently refuted the accusation.
The State Department said in a statement that Blinken’s “travel and consultations are part of the diplomatic efforts to de-escalate the tensions caused by Russia’s military build-up and continued aggression against Ukraine.”
Blinken will go from Kyiv to Berlin, where he will meet with colleagues from Germany, the United Kingdom, and France to discuss a possible reaction to any Russian military action. Many analysts say Russia has massed 100,000 troops along the Ukrainian border, equipped with tanks and other heavy weaponry, in preparation for an invasion.
According to the State Department, 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 trip comes after extensive diplomacy with our European Allies and partners about 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 interests of security and stability,” the department said.
Russia’s top ambassador denied on Monday that the country was planning an excuse to attack Ukraine. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters that the US assertion was “completely false.”
Lavrov said that Russia expected a formal response from the US and its partners this week to Moscow’s call for binding guarantees that NATO would not embrace Ukraine or any other ex-Soviet republic, or station troops and weapons there. During last week’s Russia-US talks in Geneva and a subsequent NATO-Russia summit in Brussels, Washington and its allies flatly rejected Moscow’s requests.
According to the White House, US intelligence authorities have assessed that Russia has already dispatched operatives to rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine to carry out acts of sabotage and blame them on Ukraine in order to provide a pretext for an invasion. A group of US senators was visiting Ukraine ahead of Blinken’s visit to highlight legislative support for the country.
In a statement, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat from New Hampshire, said, “Our bipartisan congressional delegation sends a clear message to the global community: the United States stands in unwavering support of our Ukrainian partners in defending their sovereignty and in the face of persistent Russian aggression.”
On a visit to Kyiv on Monday, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock cautioned that “any further escalation would come at a high cost for the Russian regime — economic, political, and strategic,” stressing the need of continuing dialogue. “We are prepared to have a serious dialogue with Russia,” she added, “because diplomacy is the only way to defuse this extremely dangerous situation right now.”
Following the overthrow of Ukraine’s Moscow-friendly president, Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula and in 2014 backed a separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine. In over eight years of conflict between Russia-backed insurgents and Ukrainian forces in the country’s industrial heartland, known as Donbas, over 14,000 people have been murdered.
If the West refuses to meet Moscow’s demands, Russian President Vladimir Putin has threatened to use unspecified “military-technical measures.”