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Antony Blinken warns Russia of “grave consequences” if it invades Ukraine ahead of Lavrov meeting


“We don’t know if President Putin made the decision to invade” Ukraine, Blinken said in remarks at the end of a North Atlantic Treaty Alliance meeting in Latvia. “We know that he is building the capacity to do it as soon as possible, if he so decides. So, despite the uncertainty as to intentions and timing, we must be prepared for all eventualities while at the same time. working for Russia to change course. ”

Blinken spoke just hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a speech that the “threat” to Russia’s western border was increasing. In his own remarks, Blinken noted that the world has already seen Moscow dramatically increase its troops along the border and deploy disinformation to suggest that Ukraine is the aggressor.

“We saw this playbook before in 2014, when Russia last invaded Ukraine, so like now, they dramatically increased the fighting forces near the border,” Blinken said. “Then as now, they have intensified the disinformation that Ukraine is the aggressor of planned and justified military action.”

The senior American diplomat once again warned that such action would entail “serious consequences”.

“We have made it clear to the Kremlin that we will respond resolutely, including with a series of high-impact economic measures that we have refrained from using in the past,” he said, adding that the alliance of the NATO is also “prepared to impose severe costs for further Russian aggression in Ukraine” and “prepared to strengthen its defenses on the eastern flank”.

When asked if the United States was considering going so far as to cut Russia off from the global financial system, Blinken declined to elaborate, but said the United States and its allies would ensure that Moscow did so. know.

“I will not explain the details today, we will probably share them over time with Moscow so that they can fully understand what is in danger, what the consequences would be if they commit another aggression against Ukraine” , said Blinken. . “And at the same time, we will work on all the details with our partners and allies.”

“A bad joke”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in an interview with CNN’s Jim Sciutto that the alliance had “a wide range of options: economic sanctions, financial sanctions, political restrictions.”

Blinken’s remarks, his most forceful on the matter to date, come as he is due to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Stockholm on Thursday, according to a State Department official.

Blinken will also meet Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on the sidelines of the Ministerial Council meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the official said.

Blinken and Stoltenberg met just hours after Putin said he would seek talks with NATO to get assurances that the alliance will not expand east into Ukraine or deploy weapons near Russian borders. The day before, Putin said that NATO’s military expansion near Russia’s borders and any deployment of missile systems in Ukraine would cross a “red line”.

Asked about Putin’s remarks, Blinken said they would be “a bad joke if things weren’t so serious.”

Referring to NATO, Blinken said that “as a defensive alliance we are not a threat to Russia. We have no aggressive intention towards Russia. measures to protect alliance members as well as to help our partners set up defensive needs, so that they can defend themselves properly against aggression, ”said Blinken. “This is the purpose of the Alliance.”

“The idea that Ukraine poses a threat to Russia, or for that matter that NATO poses a threat to Russia, is deeply flawed and mistaken,” Blinken added.

Stoltenberg told CNN that after Russia’s first invasion of Ukraine, NATO reinforced its defenses “with combat-ready battle groups in the eastern part of the alliance, in the Baltic countries, in Latvia. … but also in the Black Sea region “.

When asked if he said military options would be on the table if Russia invaded Ukraine, Stoltenberg clarified that Ukraine is not a member of NATO and therefore does not have the same security guarantees that NATO members, who have pledged to consult with each other. defense if a limb is attacked.

But Stoltenberg left on the table the possibility of Ukraine becoming a NATO member, saying Russia had no right to tell Ukraine that it could not continue with NATO membership.

“Ukraine will become a member of NATO when the 30 allies agree that Ukraine meets NATO standards,” Stoltenberg said. “But it’s up to the 30 allies to decide, not Russia to decide.”

Blinken underlined the fluidity of the situation in his remarks after the NATO meeting.

“Prepare for all eventualities”

Referring to Russia’s efforts to portray Ukraine as the aggressor in order to justify military action, Blinken noted that “we have seen this tactic again in the past 24 hours. And in recent weeks, we’ve also seen a massive – more than tenfold – spike in social media activity pushing anti-Ukrainian propaganda to levels approaching the last levels last seen before the invasion of Israel. Ukraine by Russia in 2014. ”

“Despite the uncertainty about intentions and timing, we must prepare for all eventualities while working to change course for Russia,” Blinken said. “The United States has engaged intensively with its allies and partners on this issue, and directly with President Putin. “

Blinken noted that CIA Director Bill Burns traveled to Moscow on instructions from President Joe Biden to convey to the Russian leadership “our concerns, our commitment to a diplomatic process, and the grave consequences if Russia followed suit. way of confrontation and military action ”.

This story has been updated with additional reports.

CNN’s Michael Conte, Anna Chernova, Zahra Ullah, Chandelis Duster, Radina Gigova and Niamh Kennedy contributed to this report.

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