Blinken urges Russia to ‘reduce escalation’ at border as fighting continues in eastern Ukraine

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday urged Russia to “reduce” a military concentration on its border with Ukraine, reiterating his threat of “serious consequences” if Russia resorts to “aggression” amidst the Bilateral talks scheduled in Sweden.

“We have deep concerns about Russia’s plans to renew aggression against Ukraine,” Blinken said on the day he was scheduled to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Blinken delivered the warning a day after declaring that Washington was ready to respond resolutely, even with strong sanctions, in the event of a Russian attack.

He said Russia and Ukraine should fully comply with their obligations under the 2014 Minsk peace process, designed to end a war between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian government forces in the east of the former Soviet republic.

Washington was willing to facilitate this, Blinken said, but “if Russia decides to continue the confrontation, there will be serious consequences.”

Lavrov told reporters that Moscow was ready for a dialogue with Kiev. “We, as President Putin has said, do not want any conflict,” he said.

Ukraine has become the main focus of tension between Russia and the West, as relations have soured to their worst level in the three decades since the Cold War ended. Kiev says Russia has amassed more than 90,000 troops near their long-shared border.

Moscow accuses Kiev of pursuing its own military consolidation. It has rejected as incendiary suggestions that it is preparing for an attack on Ukraine and has defended its right to deploy troops on its own territory as it sees fit.

But President Vladimir Putin has also said that Russia would be forced to act if NATO placed missiles in Ukraine that could strike Moscow in a matter of minutes.

Assassinated Ukrainian Soldier

A Ukrainian soldier was killed in clashes with pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country, Kiev said on Thursday. The latest death brings Ukraine’s death toll in the latent conflict to 61 since the beginning of the year, according to an AFP tally based on official figures, compared to a total of 50 in all of 2020.

Pro-Russian separatists have reported the loss of some 40 fighters since the beginning of the year.

In a statement on Facebook, the Ukrainian army accused the separatists of firing at their positions with grenade launchers and machine guns.

His press service told AFP that the soldier was killed on Wednesday and that he had lost six other soldiers in the same area last month.

Kiev has been in conflict with pro-Russian rebels in its eastern regions since 2014. The war broke out shortly after Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula in Ukraine and has claimed more than 13,000 lives since then.

Tensions rose in late October, when videos began to circulate on social media showing Russia moving troops, tanks and missiles toward the border with Ukraine.

Ukrainian officials said at the time that Russia had transferred some 115,000 soldiers to the area.

Kiev and its Western allies have long accused Moscow of sending troops and weapons across the border to support pro-Russia separatists.

The Kremlin denies those claims.

Putin said on Wednesday that Moscow is taking “adequate military-technical measures” in response to what he called a growing threat on its western border.

He said he wanted “concrete agreements” from NATO that it would not expand eastward.

Lavrov on Wednesday warned against a Ukrainian “military adventure” after his ministry said Kiev had deployed some 125,000 troops to the east.

( Jowharwith AFP, REUTERS)