Top U.S. diplomat says Washington is ‘committed to dialogue’, but progress must be ‘two-way’.
Ahead of key talks between US and Russian diplomats next week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Moscow against “massive consequences” if it continued what he called aggressive action in Europe, especially the military build-up on the Ukrainian border.
Blinken spoke to Foreign Ministry reporters on Friday Washington is is still seeking a diplomatic solution to the issues with Moscow, but he added that progress should be a “two-way street”.
“We are prepared to respond forcefully to further Russian aggression,” he said. “But a diplomatic solution is still possible and preferable if Russia chooses it.”
The United States and Russia will kick off conversations in Geneva on Monday focused on tensions in Ukraine. US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov will lead the delegations.
NATO and Russia will also start their own negotiations in Brussels later next week.
In late December, President Joe Biden held a call with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. In a statement describing the talks, the White House said Biden had encouraged Putin to “de-escalate” tensions and “made it clear that the United States and its allies and partners will respond decisively if Russia invades Ukraine further” .
Blinken repeated the message on Friday, saying that Washington and its allies were prepared to take unprecedented economic measures against Moscow.
“Our goal is to have a predictable and stable relationship with Russia so that we can work together when it is in our common interest, and address our differences with an open and honest dialogue,” he said.
“It will be very difficult to make real progress if Russia continues to escalate its military build-up and its inflammatory rhetoric. “We were clear with Russia about what it will face if it continues on this path, including economic measures that we have not used before – massive consequences.”
The Russian government, for its part, warned the United States that substantial sanctions against Russia would be “a colossal mistake” after the phone call between Putin and Biden.
The Russian army has gathered troops near its border with Ukraine, which the US and European fears that Russia is possibly preparing for an impending invasion of its neighbor.
Russia Ukraine’s annexed The Crimean peninsula supported a separatist rebellion in the country’s east in 2014 and shortly thereafter, lowering relations between Moscow and the West to the lows after the Cold War.
The fighting in Ukraine’s industrial heartland, known as the Donbas, has so far killed more than 14,000 people, according to Kiev.
Russia, which sees NATO as a strategic threat in Eastern Europe, is seeking security guarantees that the US-led military alliance want to stop its eastern expansion to former Soviet republics.
But Blinken on Friday described NATO as a defensive alliance that “exists to protect, not to attack”.
Earlier in the day, NATO expressed support for Ukraine against any possible Russian military action following a virtual meeting for the alliance’s foreign minister.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg opposed to giving Russia a veto over which country could join the alliance.
“We can not end up in a situation where we have second-class NATO members, where NATO as an alliance is not allowed to protect them,” he said.
Stoltenberg also scaled down the idea that Ukraine poses a threat to Russia. “I think if there is anything, it is the idea of a democratically stable Ukraine that is a challenge for them,” he said.