Blinken Will Meet With Russia as U.S. Pushes for More Diplomacy
WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken will meet with Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov of Russia on Friday in Geneva, a sign that the two sides are willing to continue discussions on what the Biden administration called “an extremely dangerous situation.”
Mr. Blinken is scheduled to depart on Tuesday for Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, where he will meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine in a show of American support on the brink of what U.S. officials fear is an imminent Russian invasion.
Mr. Blinken will follow that visit with stops in Berlin on Thursday before meeting with Mr. Lavrov, a senior State Department official said on Tuesday.
Mr. Blinken’s mission is part of a U.S. scramble to head off a potential Russian assault on Ukraine. A senior State Department official warned on Tuesday that Russia — which has assembled as many as 100,000 troops along Ukraine’s eastern borders — could launch an attack at any time.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said in a news briefing on Tuesday that Mr. Blinken would “urge Russia to take immediate steps to de-escalate.”
“We’re now at a stage where Russia could at any point want an attack in Ukraine,” she said, “and what Secretary Blinken is going to go do is highlight very clearly there is a diplomatic path forward.”
The whirlwind week of diplomacy comes after a series of three negotiating sessions between Russia and the West last week failed to provide a breakthrough. Russia has demanded a guarantee that NATO will not expand eastward, a request that the United States and Western Europe have rejected.
A senior Russian diplomat warned last Thursday that the talks were reaching a “dead end.” The Kremlin signaled it could refuse to engage in further negotiations and instead take unspecified “military-technical” measures to assure its security, insisting Russia would not allow the West to bog it down in long-running negotiations.
That Mr. Lavrov will travel to Geneva to meet with Mr. Blinken on Friday indicates that Russia is prepared for at least one more round of diplomacy. The two spoke by phone on Tuesday before Mr. Blinken’s departure for Kyiv. In the call, Mr. Lavrov rejected the idea that Russia was planning to attack Ukraine and insisted that it was up to Kyiv to calm tensions, according to a description of the call published by the Russian Foreign Ministry.
“The minister urged the secretary of state not to replicate speculation about allegedly impending ‘Russian aggression,’” the Foreign Ministry said.
Understand the Escalating Tensions Over Ukraine
A brewing conflict. Antagonism between Ukraine and Russia has been simmering since 2014, when the Russian military crossed into Ukrainian territory, annexing Crimea and whipping up a rebellion in the east. A tenuous cease-fire was reached in 2015, but peace has been elusive.
A spike in hostilities. Russia has recently been building up forces near its border with Ukraine, and the Kremlin’s rhetoric toward its neighbor has hardened. Concern grew in late October, when Ukraine used an armed drone to attack a howitzer operated by Russian-backed separatists.
Ominous warnings. Russia called the strike a destabilizing act that violated the cease-fire agreement, raising fears of a new intervention in Ukraine that could draw the United States and Europe into a new phase of the conflict.
The Kremlin’s position. President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, who has increasingly portrayed NATO’s eastward expansion as an existential threat to his country, said that Moscow’s military buildup was a response to Ukraine’s deepening partnership with the alliance.
Rising tension. Western countries have tried to maintain a dialogue with Moscow. But administration officials recently warned that the U.S. could throw its weight behind a Ukrainian insurgency should Russia invade.
The State Department has not described Mr. Blinken’s agenda for the meeting with his long-serving Russian counterpart. Russian officials have said that they are expecting a written American response to demands that Russia made weeks ago about NATO’s presence in Eastern Europe. The Russian Foreign Ministry said Mr. Lavrov told Mr. Blinken in Tuesday’s phone call that Moscow was expecting an “article-by-article” comments from the United States on Russia’s proposals.
The State Department official would not say whether Mr. Blinken would provide such a response, and said it remained unclear whether Moscow was serious about finding a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
Mr. Blinken will meet in Berlin with German officials, as well as British and French diplomats as the United States and Europe work to coordinate severe economic sanctions to punish any Russian incursion into Eastern Ukraine, where Moscow has been supporting a separatist insurgency for years.
“There’s a diplomatic path forward,” Ms. Psaki said, adding: “It is up to the Russians to determine which path they’re going to take, and the consequences will be severe if they don’t take the diplomatic path.”
Michael Crowley reported from Washington, and Anton Troianovski from Moscow.