The United States is warning Russia that the U.S. and its allies will respond “forcefully and resolutely” to further Russian military aggression against Ukraine but hopes Moscow will pursue a diplomatic path to resolve the crisis, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told VOA in Kyiv Wednesday.
“We’ve offered Russia a clear choice, a choice between pursuing dialogue and diplomacy on the one hand, or confrontation and consequences on the other hand,” Blinken said during an interview with VOA Eastern Europe Bureau Chief Myroslava Gongadze.
Earlier at a joint news conference with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, Blinken said “Russia has ratcheted up its threats and amassed nearly 100,000 forces on Ukraine’s border, which it could double on relatively short order,” sBlinken added that U.S. material assistance deliveries to Ukraine were ongoing, with more scheduled “in the coming weeks.”
“Should Russia carry through with any aggressive intent and renew its aggression and invade Ukraine, we will provide additional material beyond” what’s already in the pipeline, said Blinken.
Kuleba said a “strong Ukraine is the best tool to deter Russia,” adding it is critical to tell Russia “every single day” that it will face “very strong sanctions” should Moscow choose further aggression against its neighbor.
A senior State Department official told reporters Wednesday the White House last month approved $200 million in additional defensive security aid to Ukraine.
“Grateful for US’s political & security support. Count on enhancing economic & financial cooperation. I’m sure there will be no decision about Ukraine without Ukraine,” wrote Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a tweet.
Earlier on Wednesday, Blinken reiterated U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in a meeting with Zelenskiy, adding, “It is up to Ukrainians and no one else to decide their own future and the future of this country.”
Blinken reiterated a “clear preference” for finding a diplomatic resolution to the Russian threat and a way to de-escalate the tensions along the Russia-Ukraine border.
The buildup of Russian troops along Ukraine’s eastern border has raised concern Moscow is planning military action against its neighbor, which was once part of the Russian-led Soviet Union. Russia seized the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.
Russia has continued its troop buildup and its harsh rhetoric against Ukraine, moving Russian forces into Belarus over the weekend.
“We are now at a stage where Russia could at any point launch an attack on Ukraine,” a senior State Department official told reporters during a call briefing on Tuesday.
Wednesday’s visit to Ukraine is the first leg of a quickly arranged trip that will take Blinken to Berlin on Thursday to meet with German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock “to discuss recent diplomatic engagements with Russia and joint efforts to deter further Russian aggression against Ukraine,” the State Department said.
Blinken is then set to urge Russia to “take immediate steps to de-escalate” tensions along the border as he meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva on Friday.
Blinken spoke with Lavrov on Tuesday to stress “the importance of continuing a diplomatic path to de-escalate tensions surrounding the deeply troubling Russian military buildup in and near Ukraine,” the State Department said in a statement about the conversation.
“The secretary reiterated the unshakable U.S. commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and underscored that any discussion of European security must include NATO Allies and European partners, including Ukraine,” the statement added.
Blinken’s trip follows talks in Geneva last week between Russian and U.S. officials aimed at settling differences over Ukraine and other security issues. No progress was reported.
Russia has demanded guarantees that Ukraine will never join NATO.
Last week, the Biden administration accused Moscow of preparing a “false flag operation” for use as a ploy for intervention in Ukraine, a charge Russia has angrily denied.
A U.S. delegation visited Kyiv on Monday to show support for Ukraine amid the standoff with Russia.
U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, told VOA’s Ukrainian Service, “We have Democrats and Republicans of very different political views here to say we stand with Ukraine. And if Vladimir Putin chooses to take this treacherous anti-democratic path of invading this country, there will be severe and swift sanctions.”
U.S. Senator Kevin Cramer, a Republican, told VOA, “The United States won’t just sit idly by and be a bystander if something happens. What we would like to do is prevent it from happening. We want to be a deterrent. We want to be part of the solution before fighting commences.”