Blinken: U.S.-Russia to continue talks on Ukraine crisis

·5 min read
Alex Brandon/AP Photo

The United States plans to present Russia next week with a written record of its concerns about Moscow’s behavior and proposals aimed at resolving the security crisis on the Russia-Ukraine border, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday.

Blinken’s remarks came after his meeting in Geneva with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, where the two top diplomats held highly anticipated talks following a week of engagements by Blinken with U.S. allies in Kyiv and Berlin.

At a news conference, Blinken described the conversation with his Russian counterpart as “frank and substantive,” and he said they both “agreed that it’s important for the diplomatic process to continue” as Russia maintains its military buildup along Ukraine’s border.

“I told him that, following the consultations that we’ll have in the coming days with allies and partners, we anticipate that we will be able to share with Russia our concerns and ideas in more detail and in writing next week, and we agreed to further discussions after that,” Blinken said.

Still, it remains unclear how a written response to Moscow from Washington will help advance the mostly stagnant diplomacy between Russia and the West. The United States has already ruled out Russia’s major demands: that NATO pull back its presence in the Baltic and Eastern Europe, and that Ukraine and Georgia be permanently barred from joining the military alliance.

“This was not a negotiation, but a candid exchange of concerns and ideas,” Blinken said Friday. “I made clear to Minister Lavrov that there are certain issues and fundamental principles that the United States and our partners and allies are committed to defend. That includes those that would impede the sovereign right of the Ukrainian people to write their own future. There is no trade space there. None.”

“We’ve said from the beginning that there are certain proposals that will not be viable,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at her news briefing on Friday, elaborating on the United States’ written response to Russia.

“It’s not written answers like we’re filling out a Q&A,” Psaki added. “We’re also going to convey what our concerns are and reiterate a number of the strong statements you’ve heard the president and Secretary Blinken convey very publicly. So this is just a part of the diplomatic process and diplomatic negotiations.”

In his remarks to reporters, Blinken also stressed that Russia would face significant consequences for any further aggression toward Ukraine — a warning that came after President Joe Biden received criticism this week for suggesting that a “minor incursion” could prompt confusion among Western nations over how to retaliate.

“I conveyed the position of the United States and our European allies and partners that we stand firmly with Ukraine in support of its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Blinken said. “We’ve been clear: If any Russian military forces move across Ukraine’s border, that’s a renewed invasion. It will be met with swift, severe and a united response from the United States and our partners and allies.

Blinken’s session with Lavrov on Friday represented the latest round of talks after two straight weeks of diplomacy among the United States, European allies and Russia. Last week saw U.S. and Russian officials meet in Geneva, Russia and NATO member states meet in Brussels, and OSCE-participating countries meet in Vienna.

This week, Blinken traveled to Kyiv to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. He then traveled to Berlin to meet with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, as well as members of the Transatlantic Quad, which consists of France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The security situation has continued to devolve, however, and the United States’ rhetoric about a potential Russian invasion has become increasingly dire in recent days. “We’re now at a stage where Russia could at any point launch an attack in Ukraine,” Psaki said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the United States is actively weighing whether to evacuate family members of U.S. diplomats stationed in Ukraine, according to a source familiar with the matter. In a statement to POLITICO, a State Department spokesperson did not deny that the department was considering such an option, which was first reported by Bloomberg.

“We have nothing to announce at this time. We conduct rigorous contingency planning, as we always do, in the event the security situation deteriorates,” the spokesperson said. “If there is a decision to change our posture with respect to American diplomats and their families, American citizens should not anticipate that there will be U.S. government-sponsored evacuations. Currently commercial flights are available to support departures.”

Despite the escalating tensions, Blinken said Friday that Lavrov insisted Russia had “no intention of invading” Ukraine. “But again,” Blinken added, “we’re looking at what is visible to all, and it is deeds and actions — not words — that make the difference.”

Following his meeting with Lavrov, Blinken said he would return to Washington “to consult with President Biden and our entire national security team, as well as members of Congress, and critically, allies and partners in the days ahead.”

Blinken also did not rule out another leader-level conversation between Biden and Putin to advance the U.S.-Russia diplomacy beyond what little it has been able to accomplish thus far. Biden has already spoken twice with Putin about the Russia-Ukraine crisis, first on Dec. 7 and again on Dec. 30.

“If it proves useful and productive for the two presidents to meet, to talk, to engage, to try to carry things forward, I think we’re fully prepared to do that,” Blinken said.

“It may or may not be the next step,” Psaki said. “I can’t give you a prediction of if and when it will happen. But if that is a step that is recommended and that we think would be effective at this point in the discussion, of course the president is always open to leader-to-leader engagement.”

Alexander Ward contributed to this report.