Friday, January 21, 2022 3:15 p.m. GMT
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said any movement of “Russian military forces across the Ukrainian border” would be met with a “swift, severe and united response”.
He also warned that Moscow’s ‘extensive playbook of aggression’ would also be followed by action – following his talks with his counterpart Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov aimed at defusing tensions over the former Soviet republic .
With an estimate 100,000 Russian soldiers massed on the Ukrainian border, many fear that the Kremlin is preparing an invasion, leading to a bloody conflict, although he denies it.
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Speaking at a press conference in Geneva after his meeting, Mr Blinken said the discussion with Mr Lavrov was not a negotiation but “a frank exchange of views”.
“I conveyed the position of the United States and our European allies and partners that we strongly support Ukraine in favor of its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said.
“We have been clear, if Russian military forces cross the Ukrainian border, this is a new invasion. It will be met with a swift, severe and united response from the United States and our partners and allies. .”
The US secretary of state also warned of Russia’s “extensive manual of aggression without military action”, which he said includes “cyberattacks, paramilitary tactics and other means to advance their interests. aggressively without resorting to military action”.
“These types of Russian aggression will be met with a decisive, calibrated and once again united response,” Blinken said.
He added: “We didn’t expect any major breakthroughs to happen today, but I think we’re now on a clearer path to understanding everyone’s positions.”
On Russia’s repeated insistence that it has no intention of invading Ukraine, Mr Blinken said: ‘We look at what is visible to all, and it is deeds and actions and not words that make all the difference.’
But he said talks would continue and the United States was open to a meeting between the Russian leader Vladimir Poutine and US President Joe Biden, if it would be “useful and productive”.
Lavrov called the Geneva talks “constructive and helpful” and said the United States had agreed to provide written responses to Russian requests to Ukraine and NATO next week.
But he said: “I can’t say whether we’re on the right track or not.
“We’ll see when we get the American answers.”
Mr Lavrov also said he hoped “emotions would subside” over Ukraine and repeated the assertion that Russia posed no threat to its former Soviet neighbour.
Moscow demanded that NATO promise that Ukraine will never be allowed to join the military alliance.
He also wants the allies to withdraw troops and military equipment from parts of Eastern Europe.
However, the United States and its allies have rejected these demands and repeatedly promised “harsh” consequences, including severe economic sanctions – but not military action – against Russia if an invasion takes place.
It came as the US Treasury Department imposed new sanctions on four Ukrainian officials accused of being at the center of a Kremlin effort to undermine Ukraine’s ability to “function independently “.
Russia took control of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014 and backed a separatist insurgency in the east of the country that left more than 14,000 people dead.
Mr Putin has faced limited international consequences for these moves, but the West says another invasion would be different.
Blinken also sought to underscore US unity with partners after US President Joe Biden drew widespread criticism for saying retaliation for Russian aggression in Ukraine would depend on circumstances and that a “little foray” would see less response.
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Mr Biden then sought to clarify his remarks by warning that any movement of troops across the Ukrainian border would constitute an invasion and that Moscow would “pay a heavy price” for such an action.
Moscow denied planning an offensive and instead accused the West of plotting “provocations” in Ukraine, citing the supply of thousands of anti-tank weapons by the British military, in the face of the Kremlin’s troop build-up.