US diplomat Antony Blinken arrived in Ukraine on Wednesday in a show of support amid fears of a Russian invasion, an AFP correspondent traveling with him said.
After last week’s negotiating round failed, the White House warned on Tuesday that Russia was prepared to attack Ukraine “at any time.”
In the midst of this escalation of tension, the Secretary of State will meet this Wednesday in Kiev with Ukrainian President Volodimir Putin, two days before meeting in Geneva with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in Geneva.
Before the appointment in Switzerland, Blinken will travel to Berlin for a summit with the United Kingdom, France and Germany in search of a united position of the Western powers.
“We are now at a stage where Russia could at any time launch an attack against Ukraine,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki had said the day before.
“No option is ruled out,” Psaki insisted, referring to an “extremely dangerous situation” and accusing Russian President Vladimir Putin of having “created this crisis.”
Moscow has repeatedly denied preparing an invasion of Ukraine.
In a call between the heads of Russian and US diplomacy, Lavrov asked Blinken to “spread speculation about an alleged imminent ‘Russian aggression'”, the Russian Foreign Ministry had indicated.
State Department spokesman Ned Price explained that Blinken “stressed the importance of following the diplomatic path to de-escalate tensions.”
And a US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Blinken’s goal was to see “if there is a diplomatic way out” and “common ground” on which Russia can be persuaded.
The deployment of some 100,000 soldiers, in addition to artillery and tanks, on the border with Ukraine has set off alarms in Europe of a possible Russian invasion and has mobilized important diplomatic efforts.
However, in a press conference with the German foreign minister on Tuesday, Lavrov indicated that there would be no further negotiations until Western powers respond to his security demands.
These include Ukraine not joining NATO, something the United States rejects.
The United States and its European allies have no intention of responding militarily to a Russian attack on Ukraine, but plan economic sanctions that are nothing like those applied in the past, the White House says.
An American official pointed to the possibility that Russia does not want a diplomatic solution.
“I think it is still too early to say whether the Russian government is genuinely interested in diplomacy … or whether it uses the negotiations as a pretext to claim that diplomacy did not address Moscow’s interests,” he said.
Russia has already faced US and European sanctions after annexing Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014. Following that move, a war broke out in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russian separatists and Moscow that has caused more than 13,000 deaths.