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Blinken, Lavrov exchange 'frank' views on Ukraine crisis

January 21, 2022

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russia's top diplomat Sergey Lavrov met in an attempt to de-escalate tensions in Eastern Europe.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva
Blinken and Lavrov, two veteran diplomats, have known each other for yearsImage: Alex Brandon/AP Photo/picture alliance

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken held talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday in Geneva amid ongoing fears that Russia could invade neighboring Ukraine. 

The two diplomats met briefly at Hotel President Wilson, where they discussed whether diplomacy can still resolve the crisis.

What did Blinken and Lavrov say in Geneva?

Although neither side expected a breakthrough deal from the talks, both Blinken and Lavrov opened the door to further dialogue. Blinken described the discussions as "frank and substantive," calling it a "candid exchange of concerns and ideas."

On the Russian side, Lavrov said following the meeting that Moscow will receive a written response to its "concrete" security demands "next week," a promise that was confirmed by Blinken. The US and Russia would also be open to further discussions in the coming days.

Lavrov described the talks as "constructive and useful." The Russian envoy also said his country "never" threatened the Ukrainian people.

Lavrov said Moscow has security concerns "not about invented threats, but real facts that no one hides — pumping Ukraine with weapons, sending hundreds of western military instructors."  

Blinken said Russia should expect a "united, swift and severe" response if it attacks Ukraine and said the situation has reached a "critical moment." He also called on Moscow to remove troops from Ukraine's border region. 

DW Brussels Bureau Chief Alexandra von Nahmen, who was in Geneva to cover the meeting, said Blinken and Lavrov may find common ground in some areas, such as "arms control or military exercises."

Ahead of the talks, the Kremlin criticized recent remarks from US President Joe Biden, who recently suggested Russia would witness a "disaster" if it attacked Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Biden's statements can "facilitate the destabilization of the situation."

Blinken said Friday that he does rule out the idea of more direct dialogue between Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

"If we conclude (and) the Russians conclude that the best way to resolve things is through a further conversation between them, we're certainly prepared to do that," Blinken said, referring to Biden and Putin.

Risk of conflict in Ukraine concerns region

Russia has dispatched some 100,000 troops to the Ukrainian border, alarming the West.

Ukraine also accused Russia of ramping up support for separatists in eastern breakaway regions of the country on Friday.

Moscow has denied it is planning an invasion, with the Kremlin also demanding NATO halt its eastward expansion in the region and deny membership to Ukraine. The Russian Foreign Ministry on Friday also called on NATO to remove troops from Romania and Bulgaria.

Romania responded to Moscow's NATO demand on Friday, calling it "unacceptable." Bulgaria also rebuked the request, saying it decides alone on its defense. NATO also rejected the Russian demand. 

Poland, meanwhile, said it supports the full Euro-Atlantic integration of Ukraine. 

US, allies working together amid tensions

Blinken has been in Europe this week for talks with Western allies in Berlin in an effort to coordinate a joint response if Moscow moves forward with an invasion of Ukraine. 

Blinken met German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Thursday, where the two diplomats vowed sanctions towards Russia if Moscow orders an attack against Ukraine.

Baerbock has said she expects talks with Russia over the Ukraine conflict to be long and complicated.

"We will have to wrestle for every millimeter of greater security," she told the Saturday edition of German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung.

German Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Action Robert Habeck suggested in an interview published in German magazine Der Spiegel on Friday that Berlin could work more closely with Moscow in the field of renewable energy.

"We should also think about new business areas that can help lead both sides out of this confrontational position," Habeck said.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is expected to discuss the crisis with French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania will send Ukraine US-made anti-armor and anti-aircraft missiles, their defense ministers said Friday.

Ukraine thanks US for support

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who met with Blinken on Wednesday in Kyiv, has thanked the US for its support in the conflict. Washington announced it will give Kyiv millions of dollars in additional military assistance amid Russian invasion concerns.

Zelenskyy told the Washington Post on Friday that Russia may attempt to occupy the northeastern Ukrainian industrial city of Kharkiv, which lies near the Russian border. He said the Kremlin would claim the Russian military is protecting the Russian-speaking population of the city from the Ukrainian government.

Zelenskyy claims the occupation of Kharkiv would then trigger a "large-scale war."

Russia previously attacked Ukraine in 2014, with Moscow ordering the annexation of the Ukrainian Crimean Peninsula. The move was met with condemnation and sanctions from the West. 

wd/sms  (AP, AFP, Reuters)