Secretary of State Antony J. Blnken delivered in-person assurances to Ukraine’s besieged leaders Wednesday, threatening to punish Russia if it invades the former Soviet republic.
“The world is watching,” Blinken said in a short news conference with Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, in the capital city of Kyiv.
Blinken said the U.S. and its European allies remained united over helping Ukraine fend off Russia’s “relentless” aggression and urged the same unity from the often-bickering officials in Kyiv. “Do not let Moscow divide you,” he said.
“That means that leaders inside and outside Ukraine’s government have to put aside their differences in favor of the shared national interest and work together to prepare for what could be difficult days,” Blinken said. “But in doing that, the United States wants you to know this, as you stand up to efforts to divide, to intimidate, to threaten: The United States stands with you, resolutely, in your right to make decisions for your own future, to shape that future as Ukrainians for Ukraine.”
Blinken reiterated that if Moscow further invades Ukraine — as it did in 2014 when Russian troops captured the Crimean peninsula — the government of President Vladimir Putin will suffer severe economic and financial consequences through a series of tough sanctions.
Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky, with whom Blinken also met, would like to see those sanctions imposed before any new invasion. Washington and Europe have thus far declined to add sanctions to the measures already in place while diplomatic efforts play out.
During Blinken’s hastily arranged trip to Ukraine, the Biden administration announced an additional $200 million in defensive military aid for the country, funds that had been approved last month but not made public until now.
Russia has amassed an estimated 100,000 troops along its border with Ukraine and could double the number in “relatively short order,” Blinken said. Russian reinforcements have also reportedly been moved into Moscow ally Belarus, on Ukraine’s northern border.
On Wednesday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov repeated his country’s denials of any plans to invade Ukraine and claimed the troops at the border were conducting training exercises. Ryabkov also reiterated his country’s demand that the U.S. promise Ukraine will never be allowed to join NATO — a notion that Blinken has said is a nonstarter.
The U.S. top diplomat is scheduled to meet his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, on Friday in Geneva. Senior U.S. and Russian diplomats, along with officials from NATO and the European Union, sustained days of intense meetings last week hoping to ease tensions with Russia over Ukraine. No progress was reported.