Jan 20, 2022 - World

Putin is challenging Ukraine's "right to exist," Blinken says

Blinken (L) speaks in Berlin on Thursday. Photo: Kay Nietfeld - Pool/Getty

Secretary of State Tony Blinken put the stakes of a Russian invasion of Ukraine in stark terms on Thursday, saying Vladimir Putin's threat is a direct challenge to Ukraine's "right to exist" as an independent country and a democracy.

What he's saying: “There’s been a lot of speculation about President Putin’s true intentions, but we don’t actually have to guess. He’s told us, repeatedly. He’s laying the groundwork for an invasion because he doesn’t believe Ukraine is a sovereign nation," Blinken said during a speech in Berlin.

Driving the news: During his visit to Berlin — which included a meeting with top British, French and German diplomats — Blinken was shadowed by a remark President Biden made on Wednesday evening, that the U.S. and its allies would be unified in responding to a major Russian invasion but perhaps less so in the event of a "minor incursion."

Asked about Biden's remark in a press conference earlier Thursday, Blinken said the U.S. and its allies were working to develop a "coordinated response" to every possible scenario.

  • The consequences will be "massive" if Russia moves in, Blinken said alongside his German counterpart, but different partners have “different authorities” and thus there would be “a division of labor.”
  • Between the lines: European countries, in particular Germany, have close economic links to Russia and are more wary of some of the tools being floated in Washington — such as cutting Moscow off from a global financial transactions system or banning exports of certain key technologies to Russia.

In his speech, Blinken reiterated the concern that Moscow would manufacture "a provocation or incident" as a pretext to invade, and that an unchallenged Russian invasion "would drag us all back to a much more dangerous and unstable time."

  • "Once the principles of sovereignty and self-determination are thrown out, you revert to a world in which the rules we’ve shaped together over decades erode and then vanish," Blinken said.

The latest: Biden sought to clarify his "minor incursion" remark on Thursday, saying that if any "any assembled Russian units move across the Ukrainian border, that is an invasion" and will trigger a "severe and coordinated economic response."

  • He also said Russia could employ "gray zone attacks" rather than sending in military units in uniform, and that the U.S. was prepared to respond to such scenarios.

What's next: Blinken will meet his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Friday in Geneva. A State Department official has said the fact that Lavrov sought a meeting indicated "diplomacy is not dead," but the administration has expressed little optimism about the outlook for an agreement to end the current crisis.

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