US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stressed Wednesday that Russia must de-escalate tensions on the border with Ukraine in order for upcoming diplomatic meetings to succeed, saying “it’s very hard to make actual progress in any of these areas in an atmosphere of escalation and threat, with a gun pointed at Ukraine’s head.”
The top US diplomat said the path of “diplomacy and de-escalation” was one of two the US and international community has laid out for Moscow ahead of a series of meetings aimed at defusing a potential crisis as Russia amasses troops on the border with Ukraine.
The other path was that “of deterrence, including the serious costs, the massive consequences it would incur if it renews its aggression against Ukraine,” Blinken said.
Blinken made the comments days before a US delegation sits down with Russian representatives in Geneva, the first of three engagements with Russia next week.
He said it was “important that we begin these conversations,” but “if they’re going to bear fruit, if they’re going to show real progress, that will require de-escalation.”
“The real question is whether Russia is serious about diplomacy, serious about de-escalation,” Blinken said.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Tuesday that the US-Russia talks were expected to focus on a “relatively narrow set of bilateral issues,” while the subsequent meetings at NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) will discuss broader issues that impact Europe.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday that the US plans to raise a variety of Russian misdeeds, including its invasions of neighboring countries, its use of chemical weapons and its election interference, in the engagements next week.
“We don’t know what next week’s conversations will bring but our approach to the discussions will be pragmatic, results-oriented and we believe there are areas we can make progress on with Moscow, make progress on if they come to the table ready to do that,” she said.
Blinken said Wednesday that “if Russia is serious about pursing diplomacy and de-escalation, that there are things that all of us can do relatively quickly to build greater confidence and to reduce some of the concerns that we have.”
He did not give specific details about what those confidence building measures could be.
“There are also issues that could be on the table that would take some time to work through, particularly for example when it comes to arms control,” he said. “You don’t come up with an arms control agreement in a matter of weeks.”
Speaking alongside his German counterpart on Wednesday, Blinken warned that a Russian invasion could mean a shutdown the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline between Russia and Germany.
He noted that the pipeline “does not have gas flowing through it at present and if Russia renews its aggression toward Ukraine, it would certainly be difficult to see gas flowing through it in the future.”
“Some may see Nord Stream 2 as leverage that Russia can use against Europe; in fact, it’s leverage for Europe to use against Russia,” he said.
Blinken also condemned Russia’s “false narrative that Ukraine seeks to provoke a conflict with Russia.”
“That’s like the fox saying it had no choice to attack the henhouse because somehow the hens presented a threat to it,” he said.
CNN’s Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.