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Ahead of talks, U.S. again warns Putin of ‘massive consequences’ if Russia invades Ukraine

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said this week’s meetings in Europe will test whether Vladimir Putin is willing to resolve the crisis diplomatically

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Jan. 9 previewed upcoming negotiations in Europe aimed at preventing a Russian invasion of Ukraine. (Video: JM Rieger/The Washington Post)
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Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday reiterated that Russia would face “massive consequences” if it invaded Ukraine again and said this week’s negotiations will test whether Russian President Vladimir Putin is willing to resolve the crisis diplomatically.

U.S. and Russian delegations will meet for talks in Geneva on Monday, followed by a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council in Brussels on Wednesday and a session of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Vienna on Thursday. The meetings come amid rising tensions over a Russian troop buildup on the border with Ukraine.

“It’s clear that we’ve offered him two paths forward,” Blinken said of Putin on ABC News’s “This Week” on Sunday. “One is through diplomacy and dialogue; the other is through deterrence and massive consequences for Russia if it renews its aggression against Ukraine. And we’re about to test the proposition of which path President Putin wants to take this week.”

In a phone call with President Biden last month — their second in a month — Putin warned that any new sanctions on Moscow could result in “a complete rupture of relations” between their countries. Putin has demanded that the United States and NATO agree to sweeping security guarantees that would bar Ukraine from joining NATO and rule out any eastward expansion by the U.S.-led military alliance.

Blinken on Sunday reiterated that there would be economic, financial and other consequences for Moscow if it “renews its aggression” against Ukraine — including an expanded NATO presence on the eastern flank near Russia. The United States has also been providing “significant defensive assistance” to Ukraine, as recently as the last couple of weeks, Blinken added.

Russia’s rifts with the West keep growing. How did we get here?

“How we got here is because Russia has committed repeated acts of aggression against its neighbors going back more than a decade: Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine in 2014, and now the prospect of doing that again,” Blinken said, echoing remarks from Friday in which he blasted Putin’s insistence that NATO is threatening Russia as a false narrative.

“That’s like the fox saying it had to attack the henhouse because its occupants somehow pose a threat,” Blinken said then. “We’ve seen this gaslighting before.”

On Sunday, the secretary of state said that any “breakthroughs” in the discussions this week are unlikely and that any progress would have to happen on a reciprocal basis.

“If the United States and Europe are taking steps to address some of Russia’s concerns, Russia will have to do the same thing,” Blinken told CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“Second, nothing’s happening without Europe,” he added. “And third, it’s hard to see making actual progress as opposed to talking in an atmosphere of escalation with a gun to Ukraine’s head. So if we’re actually going to make progress, we’re going to have to see de-escalation — Russia pulling back from the threat that it currently poses to Ukraine.”

Since early December, U.S. intelligence agencies have warned that Russia was planning a massive military invasion of Ukraine. Here’s why Moscow would do that. (Video: Jason Aldag/The Washington Post)

In comments to Russian media on Sunday, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, the Kremlin’s top negotiator for the talks, also tamped down expectations about this week’s meetings. He told Russian state news agency RIA on Sunday that Moscow is not going into the talks with an “outstretched hand” and might not see the need to continue the discussions past Monday.

“If we walk in circles and repeat the same thing, if we do not see the slightest signs of readiness from the other side to take into account our priorities, to react to them in a constructive way, then the dialogue will become pointless,” he said. “And what is the point in continuing it?”

Current and former U.S. officials have spoken highly of Ryabkov. Michael McFaul, the U.S. ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014, said Ryabkov is “one of the best diplomats Russia has.”

Ryabkov told the Russian news agency Interfax on Sunday that Moscow’s “expectations are realistic.”

Russian escalation overshadows prospects for resolving Ukraine crisis, Blinken says

“Based on the signals that have been voiced by Washington and Brussels in recent days, it would probably be naive to assume any progress, especially a rapid one,” he said. “This is definitely an alarming moment, because the task before us is to reach an agreement swiftly, without any pauses. Without giving our U.S. and NATO colleagues a chance to slow it all down and involve us in endless discussions on the same topics.”

Blinken on Sunday also said he had spoken to his counterpart in Kazakhstan, after days of violence and bloodshed amid sweeping anti-government demonstrations, and that the United States had questions about why the Kazakh government called in forces from a Russia-led military alliance.

“We have real concerns about the state of emergency that was declared in Kazakhstan,” Blinken said on ABC News. “Kazakhstan has the ability to maintain law and order, to defend the institutions of the state, but to do so in a way that respects the rights of peaceful protesters and also addresses the concerns that they’ve raised — economic concerns, some political concerns.”

Robyn Dixon, Paul Sonne, John Hudson and Ellen Nakashima contributed to this report.

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