The U.S. issued a strong warning to Russia Thursday, calling for it to stay away from Ukraine.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters he and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov discussed Ukraine at a meeting in Stockholm where he warned that “if Russia decides to pursue confrontation, there will be serious consequences.”
Ukrainian and Western officials are worried that a Russian troop buildup near Ukraine could herald an invasion.
But Moscow has insisted it has no such intention and accused Ukraine and its Western backers of making up the claims to cover up their own allegedly aggressive designs.
Blinken said “we have deep concerns about Russia’s plans for renewed aggression against Ukraine,” adding that it concerns other European nations.
Addressing the OSCE meeting, Blinken urged Russia “to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity to de-escalate, reverse the recent troop buildup, return forces to normal peaceful positions, and to implement the Minsk commitments.”
“I have no doubts that the only exit from the current crisis (in relations), and it really is quite tense, is to find a balance of interests,” Lavrov said, as he met Blinken on the sidelines of a ministerial meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in the Swedish capital.
“Regarding the rise in tensions in Europe that everyone is talking about, in part along the border of Russia and Ukraine, you know our position on this well. As President Putin underlined, we do not want any conflicts.”
Vladimir Putin has warned NATO against deploying its troops and weapons to Ukraine, saying it represents a red line for Russia and would trigger a strong response.
He said Wednesday that Moscow would seek Western guarantees precluding any further NATO expansion and deployment of its weapons near Russia’s borders.
The 2015 Minsk deal included an OSCE-monitored cease-fire, a pullback of heavy weapons and foreign fighters from the line of contact and an exchange of prisoners of war. It also envisaged granting broad autonomy to the separatist regions and a sweeping amnesty for the rebels in a diplomatic coup for Russia.
The agreement stipulated that Ukraine could only regain control over the border with Russia in rebel regions only after they receive a broad autonomy and hold elections, a provision also resented by many in Ukraine.
The agreement helped end large-scale battles, but frequent skirmishes have continued, and a political settlement has failed while Moscow and Kyiv have traded blame.
Moscow argues it’s not a party to the deal between Ukraine and self-proclaimed separatist regions and denies Ukrainian and Western assertions of sending its troops and weapons into eastern Ukraine.