After NATO foreign ministers expressed solidarity against any Russian aggression toward Ukraine, the United States on Wednesday confirmed plans for Secretary of State Antony Blinken to hold separate meetings with his counterparts from both countries.
A State Department official said the meetings with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will take place Thursday in Stockholm, Sweden on the sidelines of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe ministerial gathering.
Kuleba on Wednesday urged NATO to pursue a three-prong strategy to deter Russia that includes preparing economic sanctions and boosting military support to Ukraine.
Both Russia and Ukraine in recent days have accused the other side of massing troops in the area along their shared border. Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014 and has backed separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told members of parliament Wednesday that the only way to resolve the conflict with pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine’s Donbas region is through direct negotiations with the Russian government.
“We must tell the truth that we will not be able to stop the war without direct negotiations with Russia,” Zelenskiy said.
Blinken on Tuesday warned Russia that “any renewed aggression would trigger serious consequences,” while in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin said his military may be forced to respond if NATO’s expansion of Ukraine’s military infrastructure crosses “red lines.”
Karen Donfried, the top U.S. diplomat for European Affairs, told reporters in a telephone briefing Friday that Blinken would also use the OSCE talks to raise the issue of Russian occupation of Ukrainian and Georgian territories, as well as the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
On Tuesday in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned his military may be forced to respond to the Western-led expansion of Ukraine’s military infrastructure if “red lines” were crossed by NATO.
“If some kind of strike systems appear on the territory of Ukraine, the flight time to Moscow will be 7-10 minutes, and five minutes in the case of a hypersonic weapon being deployed. Just imagine,” said Putin.
“We will have to then create something similar in relation to those who threaten us in that way. And we can do that now,” Putin added.
The Russian leader noted his military had just successfully tested a new sea-based hypersonic missile that would be in service at the beginning of next year.
Donfried also said while in Stockholm Blinken would also be discussing the situation in Belarus.
The European Union accuses Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of enticing thousands of migrants, mainly from the Middle East, to travel to Belarus and try to cross into Latvia, Lithuania and Poland in order to destabilize those countries. The EU says Lukashenko is retaliating for sanctions it imposed against his government.
Blinken said Tuesday the U.S., in coordination with the EU, is preparing additional sanctions against Belarus for what he called “its ongoing attacks on democracy, on human rights, on international norms.”
In response to a question from VOA, Blinken said he and Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics focused “on the actions unfortunately Belarus has been taking both in terms of repressing its own people and their democratic aspirations as well as using migration as a weapon to try to sow division and destabilization in Europe.”
“We are in close coordination with the European Union preparing all U.N. sanctions,” Blinken told reporters.