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Secretary of State Blinken to visit Ukraine amid Russian troop buildup, NATO dissent

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Secretary of State Blinken to visit Ukraine amid Russian troop buildup, NATO dissent
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel on Wednesday to Ukraine and meet with top government officials, including President Volodymyr Zelensky, before moving on to Germany on Thursday. File Photo by John Minchillo/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 18 (UPI) -- Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday began a three-day trip that will take him to Ukraine and Germany in an effort to ease growing tensions about Russia's intentions along the border with Ukraine.

The trip comes after U.S. efforts to de-escalate the situation and warnings from President Joe Biden to Russian President Vladimir Putin not to take military action against Ukraine.

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For months, Russian troops have been stationed near the Russia-Ukraine border, prompting fears among Western nations that Moscow is planning an invasion. The concerns are partly based on Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 and Russia's opposition to Ukraine possibly joining NATO.

On Tuesday, Russia began moving troops to nearby Belarus for military drills next month.

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Blinken is scheduled to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Wednesday to "reinforce the United States' commitment to Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity," State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement Tuesday.

Blinken will also meet with U.S. Embassy personnel in Kiev and detail a contingency plan if Russia further escalates tensions.

Ukrainian reservists are seen during a military exercise near Kiev, Ukraine, on December 18, 2021. Photo by Sergey Dolzhenko/EPA-EFE
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"The secretary's travel and consultations are part of the diplomatic efforts to de-escalate the tension caused by Russia's military build-up and continued aggression against Ukraine," Price said.

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After leaving Ukraine, Blinken will travel to Berlin on Thursday and meet with German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and the Transatlantic Quad.

Price said the Germany trip is intended to examine "recent diplomatic engagements with Russia and joint efforts to deter further Russian aggression against Ukraine, including allies' and partners' readiness to impose massive consequences and severe economic costs on Russia."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said he's waiting on a response about certain security guarantees that Russia wants from the United States and NATO. He made the comments after meeting with Baerbock on Tuesday.

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"Those initiatives proposed by the Russian side with regards to coordinating reliable, legally binding security guarantees drew attention and were discussed rather thoroughly," Lavrov said, according to the state-run TASS news agency.

"I will reiterate, we handed over those guarantees to the U.S. and NATO members. We are now expecting responses to these proposals, as it was promised to us, in order to continue the conversation."

Meanwhile, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday extended an invitation to Russia to discuss the crisis, as well as European security and arms controls.

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"We are willing to listen to their concerns but we will not compromise on core principles," Stoltenberg said. "We must remain clear-eyed about the prospects of progress but ... will make every effort to reach an agreement."

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