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Blinken: Russia risks crisis 'with global consequences'

January 20, 2022

Washington's top diplomat, in Germany as part of a whistlestop tour of Europe, warned that Russia risked reviving Cold War-era divisions in Europe as it threatens Ukraine.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks in Berlin
After Berlin, Blinken is heading to Geneva, where he is due to meet his Russian counterpart Sergei LavrovImage: Alex Brandon/AP Photo/picture alliance

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday that Russian aggression toward Ukraine could push Europe back to divisions like those that split Germany and Europe during the Cold War. 

Moscow has deployed about 100,000 troops near the border with Ukraine, something the West has interpreted as preparation for a potential invasion.

Russia has demanded that NATO provides written guarantees that Ukraine would never become part of the alliance — what Blinken said was in violation of the principle that nations can make their own decisions. 

"To allow Russia to violate those principles with impunity would drag us all back to a much more dangerous and unstable time, when this continent, and this city, were divided in two... with the threat of all-out war hanging over everyone's heads," he said.

"It would also send a message to others around the world that these principles are expendable," he said. "It's bigger than a conflict between two countries, and it's bigger than a clash between Russia and NATO. It's a crisis with global consequences. And it requires global attention and action."

Blinken, who is due to hold talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, on Friday, also insisted that he would "ensure that we are speaking and acting together with one voice when it comes to Russia" in the meeting.

Ukrainian reservists prepare for conflict

Germany and US stress diplomatic path

Blinken was speaking after talks with German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock in Berlin. He said hundreds of meetings had been held in light of the crisis on Ukraine's border to ensure NATO allies could speak with unity.

"That unity gives us strength, a strength which I must add, that Russia cannot match," Blinken said. "It's why we build voluntary alliances in the first place. It's also why Russia recklessly seeks to divide us."

Blinken also said talks between NATO allies and Russia had yielded things for both sides to consider.

But he added: "Even as we are relentless in pursuing this diplomatic path, we will continue to make very clear that if Moscow chooses the path of further aggression, we will impose swift and massive costs."

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken fist bumps German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken fist bumps German Foreign Minister Annalena BaerbockImage: Alex Brandon/AP Photo/picture alliance

Deterrence one way out of crisis

"At this point, the only way out of this crisis is through deterrence. At the end of the day, dialogue will not solve this issue," Jessica Berlin, a US political analyst, told DW.

She added that Blinken will need to make clear to Lavrov that invading Ukraine would come with a high price for Russia.

"If this does not happen, I fear that we will have to calculate with some sort of invasion or incursion," she said.

Germany: Russia needs to de-escalate situation

Foreign Minister Baerbock reaffirmed the West's commitment to finding a political solution.

"We are agreed that the only way out of the crisis is a political one, and the only path to this is through dialogue," said Baerbock. 

"Unfortunately, through its behavior, Russia continues to speak a different language," she said.  "We urgently demand that Russia takes steps towards de-escalation. Any further aggressive behavior or aggression would result in serious consequences," Baerbock told the joint news conference. 

"This is nothing less than a question of maintaining peace in Europe. For us, it is existential."

Baerbock and Blinken also met French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and UK Vice Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, who were in Berlin on Thursday.

Later in the evening, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also spoke by phone. According to a statement from Johnson's office, the leaders "shared their deep concern at the ongoing destabilizing action by Russia in Ukraine, and said any invasion into Ukraine would be a severe strategic mistake." 

Ukraine: Life on the front line

What is Washington hoping to do?

Western and Russian officials have already met for talks on the Ukraine tensions in Geneva, Brussels, and Vienna, but these failed to yield a breakthrough.

NATO allies say they want to keep talking, but Moscow first wants a written response on its proposals for security guarantees. Russia is keen to force NATO to make concessions that include the pledge not to accept Ukraine into the US-dominated alliance.

Blinken, who is set to meet Lavrov in Geneva on Friday, has said he will not present such a formal response at those talks.

Rather, he will seek to put the onus back onto Moscow to allay fears that it is planning to invade.

The US diplomat began his whirlwind tour on Wednesday in Kyiv, where he urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to stay on a "diplomatic and peaceful path."

What's Russia been saying?

The Kremlin on Thursday said that US warnings of possible disastrous consequences for Russia were not helpful and could destabilize the situation further.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov commented after US President Joe Biden predicted on Wednesday that Russia would make a move and said Moscow would pay dearly if there was a full-scale invasion.

Amid the flurry of diplomacy, Russian leaders have dismissed NATO allies' pledge of a united stand against Russia. Lavrov has insisted that, in reality, it's the US calling the shots.

Where do NATO allies stand?

Washington and its allies have said they will keep the door open to possible further talks on arms control and confidence-building measures with Russia.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday called on the European Union to draw up a plan for a pact to ease tensions with Russia.

"We should build it among Europeans, then share it with our allies in the framework of NATO, and then propose it for negotiation to Russia,'' he said.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has said Russia faces severe political and economic consequences if there is an invasion. He used a speech to the World Economic Forum on Wednesday to urge Russia to put cooperation over confrontation.

Germany's Green Party foreign affairs spokesman Jürgen Trittin told DW that the messages from Blinken's meetings are "clearly impressive to Russia."

"Russia is learning that violating the territorial integrity of Ukraine will have massive consequences, not on one or two projects, but on the whole bunch of political and economic relations between Russia and, especially, Europe," Trittin said.  

What is Germany doing to support Ukraine?

Germany has said it keeps all options on the table in terms of possible sanctions against Russia, including blocking the massive Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which is due to double supplies of cheap natural gas from Russia to Germany.

However, there appears to be a greater willingness to slap the toughest sanctions on Russia from the US and eastern NATO members.

When it comes to weapons, the US, Turkey, and the UK have agreed to supply anti-tank missiles, armed drones, naval warships, and other weapons aimed at shoring up Ukraine's defenses. Denmark and countries in Eastern Europe are also understood to have sent arms.

Kyiv has also repeatedly pleaded with Germany to send weapons, but the call has so far been rebuffed. In her first visit to Ukraine on Monday, Foreign Minister Baerbock said Berlin would "do its all to guarantee Ukraine's security." However, she rejected the call for weapon shipments.

Roderich Kieswetter, a member of the German parliament and the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) politician who sits on the Bundestag's foreign affairs committee, said all options should be on the table. 

"There is no need for concessions of the Western side. There is only a need to strengthen the trust of the Ukrainian population [with] this protection shield," Kieswetter said.  

"I see that Ukraine needs to trust the Western support, because we cannot afford migration of people who leave Ukraine, because this would strengthen the position of [Vladimir] Putin and Russia." he added.

"We have underlined and emphasized that we would like to focus on diplomatic means and on the kind of sharp military support, but not at all a military escalation," Kieswetter said. "So it's up to Russia to de-escalate, and it should be a face-saving operation for Russia."

Moscow-backed forces have been fighting Ukrainian troops in two breakaway regions in the east of the country since 2014, when Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine. More than 13,000 people have been killed.

fb, rc/sms (AFP, dpa, Reuters, AP)