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Blinken: U.S. to respond if 'additional Russian force' enters Ukraine

Amid the heightened tensions, the State Department on Sunday night ordered a reduction in staff at the U.S. embassy in Kiev and told U.S. citizens in country to consider leaving.

Blinken: U.S. to respond if 'additional Russian force' enters Ukraine
Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a press conference after a meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Riga, Latvia, in December. Blinken warned Sunday that the U.S. will respond if “a single additional Russian force” enters Ukraine during a morning press blitz after British officials said the Kremlin plans to install a pro-Russian leader in Ukraine. File Photo by Toms Kalnins/EPA-EFE

Jan. 23 (UPI) -- Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Sunday that the United States will respond if "a single additional Russian force" enters Ukraine.

Blinken's comments were made to CNN during a morning press blitz after British officials said Saturday night that the Kremlin plans to install a pro-Russian leader in Ukraine and has considered a potential candidate.

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"If a single additional Russian force goes into Ukraine in an aggressive way, as I said, that would trigger a swift, a severe, and a united response from us and from Europe," Blinken said.

"There are other things that Russia could do that fall short of actually sending additional forces into Ukraine, and again, across the board we're prepared with Europe for a swift and calibrated and very united response. We're looking at every single scenario, preparing for every single one."

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Blinken outlined some of those scenarios in another Sunday morning interview with CBS. Those actions could include "hybrid actions, cyber attacks, efforts to bring a government down."

"And there, too, I am very confident, based on the many consultations I've had with European allies and partners, that there will be a swift, calibrated and also united response," Blinken said.

The U.S. threats follow Russia having amassed some 100,000 troops along it border with Ukraine, sparking fears that it may stage another invasion after the Kremlin annexed Crimea from Kiev in 2014.

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Blinken also addressed the threats to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky after the bombshell announcement from the British Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office on Saturday. He pointed to similar comments the United States has made about "false flag" operations.

"We've raised this publicly in recent weeks," Blinken said. "We want to put people on notice and on guard that this is something Russia could do, just as we've talked about the possibility of a so-called false flag operation where Russia creates a provocation inside of Ukraine and uses that as justification to take aggressive action."

In a third interview, with NBC, Blinken reiterated that some of the measures the United States has already taken to address destabilizing activities conducted by Russia include the sanctioning of four Russian agents in Ukraine.

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"There are a whole series of other actions that they've taken in the past and are preparing to take potentially in Ukraine, and it's important they be put on notice," Blinken said.

In his interview with CNN, Blinken also backed up comments from President Joe Biden last week that an invasion of Ukraine would be the most consequential event in global warfare since World War II.

"He's exactly right. And again, this underscores why this is so important not just for Ukraine, not just for Russia, not just for Europe and the United States, but for the world," Blinken said.

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He said that an invasion of Ukraine puts at stake "very basic principles of international relations that have been established" through both world wars and the Cold War.

"One nation can't go in by force and change the borders of another," Blinken said. "One nation can't dictate to another its policies, its choices, including with whom it will associate."

He said that allowing an invasion of Ukraine "opens a Pandora's box that countries well beyond Europe will see and maybe decide to act on."

Blinken reiterated those comments in his interview with NBC, adding that "the entire world" should be concerned about what happens in Ukraine.

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"What's at stake here is not simply the relationship between Ukraine and Russia or even between Europe and Russia or the United States and Russia," he said.

Blinken told CBS that the United States was seeking diplomatic and defense paths to the Russian aggression at the border with Ukraine. However, he resisted calls from Ukraine to impose immediate sanctions on Russia.

"The most important thing we can do is to use them as a deterrent, as a means of dissuading Russia from engaging in further aggression," Blinken said. "Once sanctions are triggered, you lose the deterrent effect."

Amid the heightened tensions, the State Department on Sunday night ordered a reduction in staff at the U.S. embassy in Kiev.

The statement calls for the voluntary departure of U.S. direct hire employees while ordering family members of those working at the embassy to return home "due to the continued threat of Russian military action."

"U.S. citizens in Ukraine should consider departing now using commercial or other privately available transportation options," it said.

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