Blinken to visit Ukraine, US allies

Matthew Lee
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit Ukraine this week as tensions between the U.S. and Russia escalate over a possible Russian invasion of its neighbor, the State Department said Tuesday.

Blinken will be in Kyiv on Tuesday on a hastily arranged trip to show U.S. support following inconclusive diplomatic talks between Moscow and the West in Europe last week that failed to resolve stark disagreements over Ukraine and other security matters.

Instead, those meetings appear to have increased fears of a Russian invasion, and the Biden administration has accused Russia of preparing a “false flag operation” to use as a pretext for intervention. Russia has angrily denied the charge.

Preparing to respond: From Kyiv, Blinken will travel on Thursday to Berlin, where he will meet with his German, British and French counterparts to discuss a possible response to any Russian military action. Russia has massed some 100,000 troops with tanks and other heavy weapons on its own soil near the Ukrainian border in what many observers believe may be preparation for an invasion.

On Monday, Russia’s top diplomat rejected the U.S. allegations that it was preparing a pretext to invade Ukraine. Speaking to reporters, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dismissed the U.S. claim as “total disinformation.”

Lavrov reaffirmed that Russia expects a written response this week from the U.S. and its allies to Moscow’s request for binding guarantees that NATO will not embrace Ukraine or any other ex-Soviet nations or station its forces and weapons there.

Washington and its allies firmly rejected Moscow’s demands during last week’s Russia-U.S. negotiations in Geneva and a related NATO-Russia meeting in Brussels.

Intelligence: The White House said Friday that U.S. intelligence officials had concluded that Russia had already deployed operatives to rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine to carry out acts of sabotage there and blame them on Ukraine to create a pretext for possible invasion.

Ahead of Blinken’s visit to Kyiv, a delegation of U.S. senators was visiting Ukraine to emphasize congressional support for the country.

“Our bipartisan congressional delegation sends a clear message to the global community: the United States stands in unwavering support of our Ukrainian partners to defend their sovereignty and in the face of persistent Russian aggression,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, said in a statement.

Speaking Monday on a visit to Kyiv, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock warned that “any further escalation would carry a high price for the Russian regime — economic, political and strategic,” and emphasized the need to continue negotiations.

“We are prepared to have a serious dialogue with Russia, because diplomacy is the only way to defuse this highly dangerous situation at the moment,” she said.

Russia seized the Crimean Peninsula after the ouster of Ukraine’s Moscow-friendly leader and in 2014 also threw its weight behind a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine. More than 14,000 people have been killed in nearly eight years of fighting between the Russia-backed rebels and Ukrainian forces in the country’s industrial heartland called Donbas.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that Moscow will take unspecified “military-technical measures” if the West stonewalls its demands.