U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met his Russian opposite number on Thursday to warn him face-to-face of the “serious consequences” Russia would suffer if it invaded Ukraine and to urge him to seek a diplomatic exit from the crisis.
Blinken delivered the warning to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at a meeting in Stockholm, a day after declaring that Washington was ready to respond resolutely, including with hard-hitting sanctions, in the event of a Russian attack.
“The best way to avert the crisis is through diplomacy, and that’s what I look forward to discussing with Sergei,” Blinken told reporters before going into talks with Lavrov.
He said Russia and Ukraine should each fully implement their obligations under the 2014 Minsk peace process designed to end a war between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces in the east of the former Soviet republic.
Washington was willing to facilitate this, Blinken said, but “if Russia decides to pursue confrontation, there will be serious consequences”.
Lavrov told reporters Moscow was ready for dialogue with Kyiv. “We, as President Putin has stated, do not want any conflicts,” he said.
Ukraine has become the main flashpoint between Russia and the West as relations have soured to their worst level in the three decades since the Cold War ended. Kyiv says Russia has amassed more than 90,000 troops near their long shared border.
Moscow accuses Kyiv of pursuing its own military build-up. It has dismissed as inflammatory suggestions it is preparing for an attack on Ukraine and has defended its right to deploy troops on its own territory as it sees fit.
But President Vladimir Putin has also said Russia would be forced to act if NATO placed missiles in Ukraine that could strike Moscow within minutes.