In push for diplomacy, U.S. Secretary of State meets with Russia’s foreign chief after talks with Ukrainian leadership, European allies

This week, the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been on a diplomatic tour of Europe. On January 19, he met with Ukrainian President Zelenskyi and Foreign Minister Kuleba in Kyiv. On January 20, he traveled to Berlin to engage with top diplomats from Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. On his final stop in Geneva on January 21, Secretary Blinken held talks with the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov. Some fear the diplomatic round could be the last chance to deter the Russian aggression. Here are the highlights and major conclusions from the talks.    

Blinken in Kyiv: Putin could order invasion of Ukraine on very short notice

The U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to Kyiv to meet with the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi and Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba on January 19. Many political analysts found his visit planned over a short time span to be unexpected.

U.S. Secretary of State Blinken said he came to Ukraine at President Biden’s instruction to reaffirm the support that the United States has for Ukraine, to speak with the Ukrainian partners about the week of diplomacy that the U.S. completed with Russia, and to consult and coordinate on the next steps ahead of his meeting on January 21 with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov.

A threat of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and a possible response by the West were front and center on the agenda. Blinken underscored the U.S.’s commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty, and anticipated additional economic assistance to Ukraine, an increase of NATO’s presence in frontline Allied states, and sanctions on Russia in a coordinated effort with the EU, if Russia chooses to escalate.   

The U.S. Secretary of State said that Russia could attack Ukraine “on very short notice”. The U.S.’s efforts are towards making Russia keep it on a diplomatic path.

Blinken addresses U.SMission Ukraine staff. The U.S. Department of State is focused on security of the U.S. embassy staff in Ukraine in the face of Russia’s aggression, Blinken said speaking to the U.S. Mission Ukraine staff in Kyiv. Buildup of the Russian troops on the Ukraine border gives President Putin the capacity to take further aggressive action against Ukraine on very short notice, the U.S. Secretary of State said.  

Meeting with President Zelenskyi. “The visit once again underscores the U.S.’s resolute support for Ukraine’s independence and sovereignty,” the Ukrainian President said following the meeting with the U.S. Secretary of State in Kyiv. Later that evening, in a video address to the nation, Zelenskyi urged Ukrainians to refrain from panicking.    

Meeting with Foreign Minister Kuleba. The U.S. consistently provides defensive assistance to Ukraine, the U.S. Secretary of State said at a joint press availability with Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Kuleba after the one-on-one meeting. Deliveries of U.S. defensive material are ongoing, and more are scheduled in the coming weeks, the Secretary said. “We will continue our relentless diplomatic efforts to prevent renewed aggression and to promote dialogue and peace. At the same time, we continue to bolster Ukraine’s ability to defend itself,” Blinken said. 

Leaders of Transatlantic Quad meet in Berlin

On January 20, the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to Berlin to meet with counterparts from Germany, France, and the UK – a group collectively known as “the Transatlantic Quad”. He met with the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, and UK Minister of State for Middle East, North Africa and North America James Cleverly. Earlier this week, Baerbock traveled to Ukraine and Russia.   

The United States and its European allies and partners are relentless in pursuing the diplomatic path. They will continue to make clear that if Moscow chooses the path of further aggression, they will impose swift and massive costs, Secretary Blinken said presenting a shared view at a joint press availability with Germany’s Foreign Minister Baerbock in Berlin.

“If any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border and commit new acts of aggression against Ukraine, that will be met with a swift, severe, united response from the United States and our allies and partners,” Blinken said.

Military assistance to Ukraine. Provision of defensive military assistance to Ukraine was part of a shared response by the U.S., NATO and the EU to Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine, Blinken said.  

The idea that the provision by the United States, by European countries, by NATO of defensive military equipment to Ukraine is somehow provocative or cause for Russia’s actions has the world upside down, Secretary Blinken said. The U.S. tries to make sure to the best of its ability that Ukraine has the means to defend itself, and that might perhaps deter further aggression by Russia.

Nord Stream 2. While gas is not flowing through Nord Stream 2 yet, the pipeline is leverage for Germany, the United States, and its allies, Secretary Blinken said.

Baerbock and Blinken reaffirmed a shared commitment that Germany and the U.S. made last year to work together to prevent Russia from using energy as a weapon.

Should Russia further escalate on the Ukraine border, the subject of energy could be laid on the table as part of a response, the German Foreign Minister said. Germany coordinates with the U.S. and other EU members on possible sanctions against Russia.

Blinken, Lavrov meet in Geneva

The talks between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva ended at about 13:00 local time. They lasted 90 minutes, 30 minutes less than planned. 

Lavrov said that Blinken promised that the U.S. would provide a written response to Russia’s demand for security guarantees.

Lavrov continued to refer to the “Kyiv regime” and a “bloody coup” in Ukraine in 2014. He said NATO enlargement to the east threatens Russia’s security. Russia has demanded written guarantees that NATO would not expand eastward, would block future membership for any former Soviet republic, and would return to its pre-1997 borders.  

Russia demands that NATO rescinds a pledge to admit Ukraine and Georgia made at the Bucharest summit in 2018, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov was quoted as saying by TASS on January 19. Alternatively, the U.S. has to make a legal commitment to vote against NATO membership for Ukraine or other states, he added. Accession to NATO requires approval of all existing NATO members

Russia’s demand for NATO to return to its pre-1997 borders requires the allied forces to leave Bulgaria and Romania as both countries joined NATO after 1997. The demands were worded clearly, the Russian Ministry underscored.

“We are talking about withdrawal of foreign forces, equipment, and weapons, as well as taking other steps to return to the set-up we had in 1997 in non-NATO countries. This includes Bulgaria and Romania,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Friday.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a press availability after the talks. He confirmed that the U.S. will provide written answers to Russia’s security demands next week. The U.S. will not go back on the fundamental principles, one of those is NATO’s open door, the Secretary said.

Russia could choose to pursue the path of diplomacy or conflict, he added. There will be a “swift, severe, and united response to any form of aggression by Russia directed toward Ukraine,” Blinken said.

The U.S. Secretary of State said he told Lavrov that if Russia wants to convince the world that it has no intention of aggression toward Ukraine, it should begin by removing Russian forces from Ukraine’s borders and continuing to engage in dialogue.

Blinken said Lavrov repeated denial of plans to invade Ukraine. But Blinken added: “We’re looking at what is visible to all, and it is deeds and actions, and not words, that make all the difference.”

Blinken said he pointed out to Lavrov that it had been Russia’s actions – aggression against Georgia in 2008, and Ukraine in 2014, that boosted support for NATO in those countries and decreased their support for Russia.