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Tough words for Moscow over Ukraine as top US diplomat tours capitals

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has once again threatened Moscow with "massive consequences" if the Russian side engages in further aggression against Ukraine.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has once again threatened Moscow with “massive consequences” if the Russian side engages in further aggression against Ukraine.

“I hope it doesn’t, but should it come to that, we will act strongly in a coordinated manner to impose those consequences on Russia,” Blinken said in Kiev after a meeting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba.

The sanctions would have financial, economic and export control components, Blinken added.

Blinken landed in Ukraine on Wednesday morning amid severe tensions and concerns that Ukraine’s lingering conflict with Russia could be on the verge of heating up due to Russian provocation.

He said the US knows that there are Russian plans in place to increase an already “very significant force” near the Ukrainian border on very short notice.

That would give Russian President Vladimir Putin the capacity, “also on very short notice, to take further aggressive action against Ukraine.”

Russia currently has around 100,000 troops on the Ukrainian border, Blinken said, and warned that this number could double in a relatively short time.

Blinken stressed that he had wanted to reaffirm the United States’ “unwavering support” for Ukraine with his visit, at a time when the country’s “security, its prosperity, its democracy, its fundamental right to exist as a sovereign independent nation are facing an unprecedented challenge from Russia.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was more restrained about the danger of a Russian invasion.

“The risks have not just existed for a day, and they have not become bigger. The only thing that has become bigger is the hype around them,” he stated during a speech.

Addressing his compatriots, he said: “Now it is not our country that is being actively attacked, but your nerves, so that you have a constant feeling of panic.”

Ukrainians should refrain from hoarding and hastily withdrawing cash, the head of state advised.

The aim is rather to weaken Ukraine’s economy so that the Ukrainian “no” vote on certain issues also becomes weaker, Zelensky claimed in the video message and appealed: “To the media: Be methods of mass information and not mass hysteria.”

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also called on Russia to de-escalate tensions near the borders with Ukraine during a virtual plenary at the World Economic Forum, saying that borders must not be moved by force.

“The Russian side is aware of our determination. I hope they also realize that the gains of cooperation outweigh the price of further confrontation.”

Scholz has firmly rejected the delivery of any weapons to Ukraine. However, the Ukrainian side is not giving up and is now naming concrete weapon systems it hopes to receive from Germany: warships and air defence systems.

Weapons deliveries are necessary to drive up the costs of an invasion and to dissuade Putin “from his insane course,” the Ukrainian ambassador in Berlin, Andrij Melnyk, told dpa.

On Friday, Blinken plans to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for talks in Geneva.

The US and NATO have been accusing Russia of planning an incursion into Ukraine for months. Russia denies this.

“We stress once again: Russia will not attack anyone,” Moscow’s embassy in Washington announced.

For its part, Russia accuses the US and its allies of arming Ukraine for years, thereby fuelling the confrontation.

The US and its allies need to stop weapons deliveries to Ukraine, because supplying them endangers Russia, according to the Kremlin’s deputy foreign minister.

Sergei Ryabkov told a discussion forum that the European security situation is “critical” and put the blame on Washington and NATO, which he said are using Ukraine to apply pressure on Russia.

He further said the US routinely accuses Russia of planning Ukrainian invasions, but has yet to offer any proof of such a plan.

As for NATO, he said it was using the alleged threat against Ukraine as a justification for its continued existence.

Lithuania’s Defence Minister Arvydas Anusauskas has advocated a further strengthening of NATO’s eastern flank.

According to Lithuanian media reports, the tense situation in the region requires additional US troops in Europe, he said in Vilnius on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Latvia wants to help Ukraine with military equipment in the face of a possible threat from Russia.

The Baltic EU country is ready to deliver “lethal and non-lethal goods” to Kiev, Defence Minister Artis Pabriks said at a press conference in Riga on Wednesday.

Blinken also promised Ukraine further support in case of a Russian invasion. Then “additional material” would be provided.

“We continue to bolster Ukraine’s ability to defend itself and make clear the costs that the United States and Europe will impose on Moscow if it rejects the diplomatic path that we’ve laid out.”

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