© Reuters. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves as he arrives at Berlin Brandenburg Airport in Berlin, Germany, January 20, 2022. Alex Brandon / Pool via REUTERS
By Simon Lewis
BERLIN (Reuters) – US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Berlin on Thursday for talks with allies in a diplomatic attempt to defuse tensions with Moscow over Ukraine, a day after a warning that Russia could attack its neighbor “in a very short time”.
U.S. President Joe Biden predicted on Wednesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin would make a military move to Ukraine following the accumulation of troops near its borders, but said the full-scale invasion would provoke a response that would be costly for Russia and its economy.
Blinken, who promised in Kiev on Wednesday that Washington would continue diplomacy as long as it could, will hold talks with Germany, France and Britain before going to Geneva on Friday to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
He will also give a speech in Berlin with the aim of putting in context tensions in Europe and the roles involved, a senior State Department official said.
Aimed at the European public as well as policy makers, the speech will try to portray the crisis in Ukraine as a critical moment for a rules-based international order, the official said.
Blinken, the top U.S. diplomat, will say Russian action raises the question of where Moscow’s efforts to rebuild the Soviet empire will end, but that Washington still believes a diplomatic solution is possible.
Last week’s talks between the United States and Russia did not lead to progress.
Germany signaled on Tuesday that it could shut down the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia if Moscow invades Ukraine.
Blinken said on Wednesday that Russia’s gathering of tens of thousands of soldiers is taking place without “no provocations, no reason”.
The Kremlin has said tensions over Ukraine are rising and are still awaiting a written response from the United States to its broad demands for security guarantees from the West.
Wednesday’s pessimistic statements highlighted the gap between Washington and Moscow ahead of Friday’s Blinken-Lavrov talks, which a Russian foreign policy analyst called “probably the last stop before the railway wreck”.
Russia has also relocated troops to Belarus for what it says are joint military exercises, giving it the ability to attack neighboring Ukraine from the north, east and south.
Eight years ago, it occupied Crimea and supported separatist forces that had taken control of large parts of eastern Ukraine, but has consistently denied any intention of invading now.
Russia says it feels threatened by Kiev’s growing ties to the West. He wants to prevent Ukraine from ever joining NATO and the alliance withdrawing troops and weapons from Eastern Europe.
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