Russian top diplomats to meet amid Ukraine showdown

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken will hold talks on Ukraine with his Russian counterpart on Friday as a standoff intensifies between Russia and the West.

The meeting caps the hastily arranged visit that Blinken is making this week to Europe, where he has conferred with Ukrainian and NATO leaders in Kyiv and Berlin, signaling the high stakes the Biden administration sees in averting what U.S. officials say could be an imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine.

At his last meeting with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at a European cooperation meeting in early December, Blinken urged Russia to reverse a major military buildup around Ukraine and abandon preparations for a possible assault. Since then, the Biden administration says, the Kremlin has only positioned more weaponry and troops around its neighbor. It has put forces in Belarus this week for what Moscow has described as routine exercises but which Washington says could represent an additional military front.

In Berlin on Thursday, Blinken warned that a new Russian attack on Ukraine, following its 2014 annexation of Crimea, would undermine the global rule of law and signal to autocrats everywhere that borders can be redrawn by force.

“It’s bigger than Russia and NATO,” he said. “It’s a crisis with global consequences, and it requires global attention and action.”

Moscow, which has accused Ukraine of threatening Russian security by procuring foreign weaponry and aspiring to join NATO, has said Washington must provide formal responses to recent proposals that would limit the Western military alliance’s presence and activities in Eastern Europe.

While Blinken was holding crisis talks in European capitals this week, the White House deployed senior officials to clarify remarks President Biden made on Wednesday that appeared to cast a Russian assault as inevitable and downplay the response to a “minor incursion.”

The statement appeared undercut the deterrent message that Blinken and others have been making for weeks: that the United States and its allies will not tolerate any further aggression.

It also triggered an icy response from Republican lawmakers and from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“We want to remind the great powers that there are no minor incursions and small nations. Just as there are no minor casualties and little grief from the loss of loved ones,” he wrote on Twitter.

Russia denies plans for invading Ukraine.

The Biden administration has promised to impose far-reaching sanctions if Russia moves into Ukraine, including possible steps to cut off Russia’s access to the international financial system.

While Blinken has stressed trans-Atlantic unity this week in the face of Russia’s massing of troops, NATO allies continue to have differences over some aspects of the Ukraine crisis, including the role that European energy supplies should play in any response to Russian action and how quickly, if at all, Ukraine should join NATO.

Blinken says U.S. will stand with Ukraine if Russia attacks Russia planning potential sabotage operations in Ukraine, U.S. says Stark differences over Ukraine overshadow high-stakes Russia-NATO talks