The United States on Wednesday urged Russia to withdraw its troops massed on the Ukrainian border, warning it that an invasion of Ukraine would generate sanctions that would hit Moscow more severely than those decided in the past by Washington.
“We do not know whether President Putin made the decision to invade or not. We know that he is putting in place the means to act quickly if he decides to do so,” said the secretary of state. American after a meeting in the Latvian capital Riga with his counterparts from NATO countries.
“If Russia chooses the path of confrontation, when it comes to Ukraine, we have made it clear that we will respond decisively, including with a range of high-impact measures that we have refused to take in the past. “, added Antony Blinken.
Moscow and Kiev pass the buck
According to Kiev, Moscow has massed more than 90,000 troops on the Russian-Ukrainian border. Russia, which annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014, claims that it does not want to lead an offensive but to act in reaction to the behavior it deems threatening on the part of Ukraine and NATO.
The Kremlin says it fears that Kiev is seeking to take back by force areas controlled by pro-Russian separatists in Donbass, a region in eastern Ukraine, which the Ukrainian government denies.
It is impossible for Russia to take de-escalation measures due to the massive deployment of Ukrainian troops near the border, Moscow says.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kouleba said Europe was at a crossroads and criticized Russia for wanting to blame Ukraine.
“Once again, I want to officially state that Ukraine is not planning any military offensive in the Donbass. This is baseless Russian propaganda intended to mask Russian preparations for a potential attack,” he said. he told reporters.
Antony Blinken, who did not give details on the sanctions envisaged by the United States, called on Moscow and Kiev to return to the diplomatic channel and put back on track a draft peace agreement for the east of Ukraine.
If Russia has managed in the past to overcome the sanctions imposed following its annexation of Crimea, the Western powers now have an additional lever: the possibility of targeting the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, the work of which has been recently completed and which should allow Russia to export gas to Germany.
In Moscow’s eyes, Kiev’s desire to integrate the European Union and NATO constitutes a “red line” which has fueled tensions between Russia and the West.
Threats from Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that Russia wants serious negotiations with the United States and its allies to ensure that the Transatlantic Alliance does not expand eastward and that no weapons system is positioned near the Russian territory.
The Russian president warned on Tuesday that Moscow had at its disposal a new hypersonic weapon, tested recently, in the event that NATO were to cross one of its red lines and deploy missiles in Ukraine.
“The idea that Ukraine represents a threat to Russia would be a bad joke if the situation were not so serious”, reacted Antony Blinken at a press conference. “NATO is by nature a defensive alliance, we are not a threat to Russia.”
Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary General of NATO, has rejected accusations that the Alliance is provoking Russia with its military maneuvers in the Black Sea.
“The problem with Russia is that it is not transparent, it has a very aggressive rhetoric and a history showing that it has already used the pretext of military exercises as a cover for aggressive actions against its neighbors,” he said. he said at a virtual event organized by Reuters.