US warns of 'united, swift and severe' response at high-stakes meeting meant to avert a Russian invasion of Ukraine

·3 min read
Putin observes the Zapad 2021 military exercises through binoculars.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin looks through binoculars during the main stage of the Zapad 2021 joint Russian-Belarusian military exercises.Sergei Savostyanov/Getty Images
  • The US secretary of state and Russia's foreign minister met Friday to talk about Ukraine.

  • The US warned Russia of a "united, swift and severe" if it invades its neighbor.

  • Russia said it's not seeking to invade Ukraine, even as its military builds up near the border.

The US has warned Russia of a "united, swift and severe" response amid fears that Russia is preparing to invade Ukraine.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday that the US and allies wanted to resolve the issue through diplomacy. Blinken made the comments while meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva, Switzerland.

"If that proves impossible, and Russia decides to pursue aggression against Ukraine," Blinken said, Moscow should expect "a united, swift and severe response."

Blinken's meeting with Lavrov lasted roughly 90 minutes, and was just the latest in a series of US-Russia talks on the issue. The diplomatic discussions have so far failed to yield any major breakthroughs.

Both Blinken and Lavrov in their opening remarks said they did not expect the meeting to produce any significant developments or resolve the differences between Moscow and Washington. But they also agreed that it was important for the diplomatic process to continue.

The top Russian diplomat called the talks "constructive and useful" and said the US agreed to give written responses to Russia's demands about Ukraine and NATO next week.

"I can't say whether we are on the right track or not," Lavrov told reporters. "We will understand that when we receive the US written response to all of our proposals."

Lavrov last week said that Russia had "run out of patience" with the US regarding its demands for binding security guarantees from the West, insisting that the US provide a response in writing imminently.

Among other things, Russia is demanding that Ukraine and Georgia are never allowed to join NATO. But the US and the alliance have repeatedly made clear that NATO's open-door policy is non-negotiable. Meanwhile, top US officials have expressed concerns that Moscow is searching for a pretext to invade — a charge Moscow has dismissed.

Blinken said Lavrov on Friday reiterated Russia's claims that it has no plans to invade amid the US, Ukraine, and Western nations warning against it. Russia has also rejected calls to remove troops from Ukraine's border in order to lower the temperature in the region. Along these lines, Blinken said, "We're looking at what is visible to all, and it is deeds and actions, not words, that make the difference."

Ukraine says Russia has deployed more than 100,000 troops, while White House press secretary Jen Psaki earlier this week said: "We believe we're now at a stage where Russia could at any point launch an attack on Ukraine."

President Joe Biden at the White House on Thuesday said that if any Russian troops move across the Ukrainian border it will constitute an invasion in his eyes, and Moscow will pay a "heavy price."

Tensions between the West and Russia over Ukraine are a product of a deep, complex history. Russia in 2014 invaded and annexed Crimea from Ukraine, prompting global condemnation. Since that year, Russia has supported rebels in a war against Ukrainian forces in the eastern Donbass region that's claimed over 13,000 lives.

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