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Blinken vows 'serious consequences' if Russia steps into Ukraine conflict

Blinken vows 'serious consequences' if Russia steps into Ukraine conflict
Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) speak to reporters Thursday at a hotel near Stockholm, Sweden. Photo by Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service via EPA-EFE

Dec. 2 (UPI) -- The top American and Russian diplomats met for talks in Sweden on Thursday and exchanged concerns about Moscow's involvement with a lengthy separatist dispute in eastern Ukraine.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Kremlin foreign minister Sergey Lavrov at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe summit in Stockholm. Both made their positions clear on the issue.

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For weeks, there's been concern in the West by a Russian troop buildup near Ukraine.

For the United States, the position is that Russia had better stay out of the conflict altogether. For Russia, it's concern that U.S. and other Western powers are provoking an escalation to the fighting.

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"The best way to avert a crisis is through diplomacy," Blinken told reporters before meeting with Lavrov. "But, and again in the spirit of being clear and candid, which is the best thing to do, if Russia decides to pursue confrontation, there will be serious consequences."

Lavrov said Russia has been threatened by NATO's move east and has a right to protect its interests. There's an ongoing pro-Russia conflict in Ukraine's Donetsk region and Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014.

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"NATOs further expansion to the East will clearly affect the vital interests of our security," Lavrov said, according to Russia's state-run TASS news agency.

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"But if our NATO partners state that no one is empowered to dictate terms to a country wishing to join NATO, whether it can do so or not, we cite a clause of international law, which stipulates that each state has the right to choose methods of ensuring its legitimate security interests."

Russia has previously said that it has no designs to invade Ukraine. The troop buildup, however, is the main factor that's fueling concern among the United States and Western allies.

"Should Moscow choose the path of military escalation, [Blinken] made clear that the United States and our allies are prepared to impose significant costs," the State Department said in a readout of Blinken's meeting with Lavrov.

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