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Top US and Russian envoys discuss Ukraine at ‘critical moment’

GENEVA – US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned on Friday that the week-long standoff over Ukraine is at a “critical juncture”, as he begins talks with his Russian counterpart amid rising fear that Europe might once again be besieged by war.

Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have lowered expectations ahead of the Geneva meeting, with each saying in their own words that the talks are just a step.

With 100,000 Russian troops massed near the border with Ukraine, many fear Moscow is preparing an invasion – and the US and its allies are trying to put together a united front in the hope of preventing it or coordinating against it. deputy if they can’t.

“We don’t expect to resolve our differences here today,” Blinken told Foreign Minister Lavrov. “This is a pivotal moment.”

Lavrov, meanwhile, said he also did not “expect a breakthrough at these talks. What we expect is concrete answers to our specific proposals.” Moscow has asked NATO for concessions on the Western alliance’s relationship with Ukraine, a former Soviet republic.

Washington and its allies have repeatedly promised “severe” consequences such as economic sanctions – though not military action – against Russia should an invasion take place.

Blinken echoed that warning on Friday. He said the United States and its allies were committed to diplomacy, but also committed, “if that proves impossible and Russia decides to pursue aggressive action against Ukraine, with a unified, rapid response fast and stern.”

However, he said he also wanted to use the opportunity to share directly with Foreign Minister Lavrov some “concrete ideas to address some of the concerns that he raised, as well as profound concerns.” that many of us have about Russia’s actions.”

After meeting with Ukraine’s president in Kyiv and top diplomats from Britain, France and Germany in Berlin this week, Blinken confronts Lavrov in a meeting seen as a possible last attempt at dialogue. and a negotiated deal – but both sides stick to the red lines so far irreconcilable.

On Thursday in Berlin, Blinken warned of a “swift, stern” response from the US and its allies should an invasion be launched, and the US Treasury Department imposed new sanctions on the country. with four Ukrainian officials. Blinken said the four were at the heart of the Kremlin’s efforts starting in 2020 to damage Ukraine’s ability to “operate independently.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry on Thursday laid out the tentative agenda for the meeting: the texts of two Moscow proposals for new treaties with both the United States and NATO on security guarantees.

Meanwhile, the State Department issued three statements – two about Russia’s “disinformation”, including specifically about Ukraine, and another titled “Actions to expose and disrupt the War”. Russia’s destructive epidemic in Ukraine.”

Blinken made an effort to emphasize the United States’ solidarity with its allies to combat a possible Russian invasion – and tried to do so on Thursday, a day after the US president. United States Joe Biden was widely criticized for saying that retaliation for Russia’s aggression in Ukraine would depend on the details and that a “minor invasion” could sow discord among Western allies.

On Thursday, Mr. Biden warned that any move of Russian troops across the border with Ukraine would constitute an invasion and that Moscow would “pay dearly” for such an action.

“I’ve been completely clear with President Putin,” Biden said. “He made no mistake: Any, any assembled Russian unit moving across the Ukrainian border, that’s an invasion.”

Russia has denied it is planning an invasion and instead accused the West on Thursday of plotting “provocations” in Ukraine, citing British military transport planes having delivered weapons to Russia. this country in recent days.

Russia wants binding security guarantees, including a permanent ban on Ukraine’s accession to NATO, which Kyiv wants, and the removal of most of the US and allied military presence in Eastern Europe.

The US and its European partners say they are willing to consider some less dramatic gestures, but that Russia’s demands are unfounded and that Putin knows they are no ordinary people.

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