During diplomatic visit, US Secretary of State Blinken warns Ukraine faces risk of ‘imminent invasion’

19 January 2022, 04:42 PM

There is a risk of an “imminent invasion” of Ukraine by Russia, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned after arriving in Ukraine on a short-notice visit to Kyiv on Jan. 19.

Blinken arrived in the country to meet with Ukrainian officials to discuss the looming threat of a further Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the possible responses that could be offered by Ukraine’s partners and allies.

“We’re telling Moscow with one voice: Ukraine is under an unprecedented threat,” Blinken said during his meeting with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky.

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Zelensky extolled cooperation between the United States and Ukraine, saying “This (visit) once again highlights the United States’ robust support of our independence and sovereignty,” according to Ukrainian news agency Interfax-Ukraine.

“Now more than ever, it is up to Ukrainians to decide on their future, and on the future of this country,” Blinken said, adding that the deployment of more than 100,000 Russian troops on the Ukrainian border is “an unprecedented threat.”

“We clearly stated our preference for a diplomatic solution to the conflict, (one) that would lead to a de-escalation of tensions… We told Moscow plainly that should they choose further aggression against Ukraine, it will have serious consequences, not only on our part, but also on the part of the EU and other countries,” the secretary said.

Speaking at a joint press conference with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba later in the day, Blinken said he was in Kyiv to assure Ukraine of the United States’ support.

“This support has strong bipartisan backing in the United states,” he said.

But Blinken also called for “political unity” in Ukraine, perhaps in reference to the ongoing political feud between Zelensky and his predecessor Petro Poroshenko, who is facing charges of treason.

“Don’t let Moscow divide you,” he said.

Kuleba said Ukraine was working exclusively on maintaining its defense, and that the United States was Ukraine’s number-one ally.

“We have a strong army, we have very strong diplomacy and we have strong partners,” Kuleba said.

“We have to be confident that we will be able to overcome this hard period in our history,” he added.

The United States and some European countries have stated that they are working on sanctions plans against Russia that would kick in in the event of a renewed invasion, including cutting Russia off from the SWIFT global banking system and personal sanctions on Russian President Vladimir Putin and his inner circle.

Blinken assured Ukrainians that Washington is doing everything in its power to engage its allies and partners in the efforts to deter a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine.

He also pushed back against the idea of disagreement between Europe and the United States on this front, saying that “Russia aims to sow discord between us and our allies; we can’t afford to let it succeed in that.”

Blinken’s trip to Kyiv is rather short-notice – it was announced on Jan.18. The secretary is expected to also visit Germany and Switzerland as part of this diplomatic tour.

Before meeting with Zelensky and Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, Blinken was briefed on the current situation in Ukraine by U.S. diplomats at the American embassy in Kyiv.

“I sincerely hope that we can remain on a peaceful and diplomatic path, but in the end, it’s a decision for president Putin,” said Blinken, according to French news agency AFP, after the briefing.

“We’re aware of plans to deploy even more (Russian) forces, which would give president Putin an opportunity to suddenly engage in further aggression against Ukraine,” the secretary told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, a U.S. government-funded media organization.

Just before he left for Kyiv, Blinken appeared on the Pod Save America podcast, explaining why Washington is so focused on the Russia-Ukraine crisis at the moment.

According to him, the problem is about much more than just Ukraine, but about the idea that Russia can change neighboring borders by force - not just in contravention of international law, but against the wishes of that neighbor and its elected government in favor of a sphere of influence.

“You’ve got one country – Russia – that by its actions is saying that it can just change the borders of its neighbors by force; saying it can decide for its neighbor what its decisions are going to be, with whom it might choose to associate – not the people of that country and their elected government; you have country saying it’s fine to have a sphere of influence, where we basically bend neighbors in our area to our will,” the secretary said.

Recent Russian demands for a rollback of NATO infrastructure in Europe to pre-1997 levels, and a written ban on allowing Ukraine to obtain membership in the alliance, have been seen by many as calls to re-establish spheres of influence as geopolitical forces in the world.

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