U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Thursday that there would be a “swift, severe” response from the United States and its allies if Russia sends military forces into Ukraine.
Blinken’s comments in Berlin appeared to be another effort to clear up any confusion about the position of the U.S. and its NATO allies after U.S. President Joe Biden was heavily criticized for saying a “minor incursion” by Russia would elicit a lesser response.
“If any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border and commit new acts of aggression against Ukraine, that will be met with a swift, severe, united response from the United States and our allies and partners," Blinken told reporters.
Top U.S. and European diplomats are seeking to project a united front to Russia over concerns that it may be planning an invasion of Ukraine.
Russia has massed an estimated 100,000 troops near Ukraine, and Biden said Wednesday he thinks Moscow will invade. He warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that his country would pay a “dear price” in lives lost and a possible cutoff from the global banking system if it does.
Against that backdrop, Blinken held talks Thursday with diplomats from Germany, France and Britain — a so-called Quad meeting. A day earlier, he met Ukraine’s president in Kyiv to discuss the threat.
Russia has denied it is planning an invasion and, in turn, accused the West on Thursday of plotting “provocations” in Ukraine, citing the delivery of weapons to the country by British military transport planes in recent days.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova alleged that Ukrainian and Western talk of an imminent Russian attack was a “cover for staging large-scale provocations of their own, including those of military character.”
The U.S. and its NATO allies face a difficult task on the Ukraine crisis. Biden has said he is not planning to send combat troops in the case of a further Russian invasion. But he could pursue a range of less dramatic yet still risky military options, including supporting a post-invasion Ukrainian resistance.
The rationale for not directly joining a Russia-Ukraine war is simple. The United States has no treaty obligation to Ukraine, and war with Russia would be an enormous gamble. But doing too little has its risks, too.
The challenges of keeping the United States and its NATO allies united in their response to Russia were on display Wednesday, when Biden warned Russia against any invasion but also said a “minor incursion” would elicit a lesser response. He later sought to clarify that he was referring to a nonmilitary action, such as a cyberattack — but the remark elicited a barrage of criticism at home that he was not being tough enough on Russia and raised the specter of possible divisions abroad.
In explaining the remark, Biden said “it’s very important that we keep everyone in NATO on the same page.”
But the president also prompted consternation among allies after saying that the response to a Russian invasion “depends on what it does.”
"It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and then we end up having a fight about what to do and not do, et cetera,” he said.
Blinken was at pains Thursday to stress that the U.S. and its partners were united in the face of Moscow’s actions, noting that American diplomats have held more than 100 meetings with allies in recent weeks “to ensure that we are speaking and acting together with one voice when it comes to Russia.”
“That unity gives us strength, a strength I might add that Russia does not and cannot match,” he said. “It’s why we build voluntary alliances and partnerships in the first place. It’s also why Russia recklessly seeks to divide us.”
On the question of whether the Nord Stream 2 pipeline built to bring natural gas from Russia to Germany could be subject to Western sanctions against Moscow, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said that “should there be a further escalation, all measures would be laid on the table.”
Blinken was to speak on the Ukraine crisis later Thursday in the German capital before flying to Geneva, where he will meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday.
In his speech to the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences, Blinken will elaborate on the American position on Ukraine, the broader historical context of the current crisis, and the need for allies to present a unified front to confront Russia’s aggression and violations of international norms, U.S. officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to publicly preview Blinken’s speech.
Blinken is also expected to address the Russian people to outline the costs that their country will pay should it move ahead with an invasion, they said.
While the meeting in Berlin will focus primarily on Ukraine, the ongoing talks over reviving a deal aimed at limiting Iran's nuclear program will also be discussed, according to the officials.
Following his meeting with Bilnken this week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is scheduled to arrive Thursday in Poland, which has long supported Ukraine’s efforts to move closer to the democratic Western world.
That move westward is a key point of contention in the standoff with Russia. Moscow wants guarantees that NATO will not expand to include Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations and that the alliance won’t deploy weapons to those countries.
Washington and its allies firmly rejected Moscow’s demands in security talks last week, but kept the door open to possible further talks on arms control and confidence-building measures to reduce tensions.