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U.S. calls for ‘serious diplomatic path forward’ as Russia adds troops near Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks about Russia and Ukraine during a briefing at the State Department in Washington, U.S., January 26, 2022.
Brendan Smialowski | Reuters

WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. delivered a document to Moscow on Wednesday that lays out “a serious diplomatic path forward” should Russia decide against invading Ukraine.

Blinken said the contents of the document were shared with NATO allies and that President Joe Biden was intimately involved with its crafting. U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan handed over Washington’s written responses.

The development came as NATO warned that Russia continued to increase its military presence along the Ukraine border. U.S. officials, including Biden, have said they expect the Kremlin to launch an attack on the former Soviet nation.

Blinken said the document sets forth areas and ideas of how Washington and Moscow can work to advance collective security interests.

“Right now, the document is with them and the ball is in their court,” Blinken said. “Whether they choose the path of diplomacy and dialogue or whether they decide to renew aggression against Ukraine. We’re prepared either way.”

The U.S. will not publicly release the document in order to provide space for confidential bilateral talks, the secretary of State added.

For months, the West has watched as Russian President Vladimir Putin has sent more than 100,000 forces with advanced equipment to areas along Ukraine’s border.

The Kremlin has denied that the troop deployment is a prelude to an attack and has instead characterized the movement as a military exercise.

Russian officials have meanwhile repeatedly called on the U.S. to prevent an eastward expansion of the NATO military alliance.

Russia has also demanded that the U.S. “shall not establish military bases” in the territories of any former Soviet states that are not already members of NATO, or “use their infrastructure for any military activities or develop bilateral military cooperation with them.”

The U.S. and NATO have previously said that such a request from the Kremlin cannot be accommodated.

Since 2002, Ukraine has sought entry into NATO. The group’s Article 5 clause states that an attack on one member country is considered an attack on all of them.

Biden told reporters Tuesday that a full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine would radically alter European security. “If he were to move in with all those forces, it’d be the largest invasion since World War II. It would change the world,” Biden said.

An Ukrainian Military Forces serviceman walks along a snow covered trench on the frontline with the Russia-backed separatists near Zolote village, in the eastern Lugansk region, on January 21, 2022.
Anatolii Stepanov | AFP | Getty Images

The U.S. and European allies have repeatedly issued threats to impose swift and severe economic consequences if Putin orders an attack on Ukraine.

“He’s [Putin] never seen sanctions like the ones I promised,” Biden said last week when asked about potential U.S. economic measures. The president said “a disaster” awaits Russia should an attack on Ukraine occur, a development that intelligence agencies warned last week could happen within a month.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday that Russia’s military presence has increased along the border with Ukraine as well as in Belarus.

“Russia continues its military buildup, and we see also more troops not only in and around Ukraine but also now in Belarus. Russia is in the process of deploying thousands of combat troops, hundreds of aircraft, S-400 air defense systems and a lot of other very advanced capabilities,” Stoltenberg said from NATO’s headquarters in Brussels.

“These are highly capable combat troops, and there is no transparency on these deployments. So of course, this adds to our concerns. It adds to the tensions, and it shows that there is no de-escalation,” Stoltenberg said.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg holds a news conference during a NATO summit at the Alliance’s headquarters, in Brussels, Belgium, June 14, 2021.
Olivier Hoslet | Pool | Reuters

Earlier this week, the Pentagon placed 8,500 U.S. servicemembers on “heightened alert” to deploy to Europe should NATO activate a response force.

The 8,500 troops represent America’s contribution to the 40,000-strong NATO Response Force, or NRF, whose activation requires approval of all 30 NATO members.

The latest revelations come as the State Department issued an order Sunday evening for eligible family members of personnel at its embassy in Kyiv to leave the country due to the deteriorating security conditions.

The State Department also recommended on Sunday that all U.S. citizens in Ukraine depart the country immediately, citing Russia’s continued military buildup on the border. Blinken reiterated on Wednesday that the security conditions in Ukraine are unpredictable and can deteriorate with little notice.

“Our message now for any Americans in Ukraine is to strongly consider leaving using commercial or other privately available transportation options,” Blinken said.

“If Russia invades civilians including Americans still in Ukraine could be caught in a conflict zone between combat forces. The U.S. government may not be in a position to aid individuals in these circumstances,” he added.

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