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Blinken shares warnings with Russian Lavrov on Ukraine and NATO

WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said on Thursday that President Biden would “probably” speak directly with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin “in the near future”, as part of a frantic diplomatic effort to avoid this that Western officials fear could be a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Blinken spoke to reporters in Stockholm on Thursday, shortly after meeting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei V. Lavrov on the sidelines of an annual meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Mr Blinken said he had communicated “clearly and directly” to Mr Lavrov the US concerns about unusual troop movements and other threatening actions by Moscow which appear to presage a Russian invasion of its neighbor, a former Soviet republic. whose independence and Western ties are tied to Mr. Poutin resents it.

Mr Blinken warned that the United States would work with its allies “to impose serious costs and consequences on Russia if it takes further aggressive measures against Ukraine”. He said these could include “high-impact economic measures that we have refrained from taking in the past,” but declined to provide further details.

Mr. Lavrov came with his own threats. Echoing Mr Putin’s recent warnings, Mr Lavrov said that “dragging Ukraine into the geopolitical games of the United States in the context of the deployment of NATO forces in close proximity to our borders will have the worst consequences. more serious, ”according to a statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry after his meeting with Blinken.

Lavrov reiterated Putin’s demand for “long-term security guarantees” on Russia’s western borders, which the Russian president outlined on Wednesday as agreements that Ukraine will never join NATO and that the alliance’s weapon systems will not be based there. Lavrov said otherwise Russia was ready to take “retaliatory measures to correct the military-strategic balance,” the statement said.

As Russia increasingly talks about NATO threats, Blinken warned Russia could fabricate a provocation to justify military action against Ukraine. On Thursday, he told reporters that “despite a massive Russian disinformation campaign, Ukraine is in no way a threat to Russia.”

“The only threat is that of further Russian aggression against Ukraine,” Blinken said.

Neither Mr. Blinken nor the White House have provided further details on a Biden-Putin conversation. Kremlin officials hinted at the possibility for days, but Mr Blinken’s remark was Washington’s first clear indication that Mr Biden was taking the idea seriously.

The two presidents first met in person in June amid a similar state of alarm over a possible Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine, where Russian forces have long backed a pro-Moscow separatist insurgency. Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, a move the United States still does not recognize.

Russian forces partially withdrew shortly before Mr Biden and Mr Putin met in Geneva, leading some analysts to suggest Mr Putin fabricated the crisis in part to secure a meeting with the newcomer. American president.

Biden officials said at the time that the summit’s goal was to a large extent to regain a more stable and predictable position with the Kremlin. But the relationship remains poisoned.

In brief remarks to reporters before meeting privately with Blinken, Lavrov also alluded to an exchange of views with the United States involving diplomatic staff. Russia on Wednesday ordered U.S. diplomats who had been in Moscow for more than three years to leave the country by January 31. The move came days after the Russian ambassador to Washington said 27 Russian diplomats and their families were being forced to leave. in the United States by the end of January.

In a daily briefing Thursday, Deputy State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter said Russian diplomats must leave the country under a policy that limits them to stays of three years. “What is happening is not an expulsion,” she said, adding that new diplomats could take their place.

The US diplomatic presence in Russia has declined dramatically in recent years amid growing tensions between Washington and Moscow. The State Department closed its last two consulates in Russia a year ago, citing a ceiling on diplomatic workers imposed by Moscow after a series of US sanctions in 2018.

While handling the crisis along Ukraine’s eastern border, Blinken also handled diplomacy related to Iran’s nuclear program, as a new round of talks continued in Vienna with little apparent progress. The talks aim to restore the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which President Donald J. Trump abandoned in 2018.

Mr Blinken responded on Thursday to an unusual call from Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who told him Iran was engaging in “nuclear blackmail” and called for “an immediate end to negotiations” in Vienna.

Mr Blinken played down the call, saying he and Mr Bennett had had a positive conversation and agreed on the goal of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

He added that Iran’s recent rhetoric and steps taken to speed up its nuclear program “don’t give us much reason to be optimistic,” but said “it’s not too late for that to happen. ‘Iran is going backwards’.

Anton Troianovsky contributed to reporting from Moscow.

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