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Photo: Mandel Ngan/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. and Germany's top diplomats issued a joint warning to Russia ahead of high-level security talks in Europe next week, pledging "massive" economic consequences if Vladimir Putin proceeds with an invasion of Ukraine.

Why it matters: With Russia massing troops on the Ukrainian border and questions swirling about how far Germany is prepared to go to deter Putin, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and new German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock presented a united front at their first press conference together in Washington.

The big picture: President Biden told Putin last week that there are two paths for dealing with the Ukraine crisis — a path of "diplomacy" or a path of "deterrence," which would entail sanctions and more military support to NATO's eastern flank.

  • Top U.S. and Russian officials will meet on Jan. 10 for a "strategic stability dialogue," which Blinken said would only cover bilateral issues.
  • That will be followed by meetings of the NATO-Russia Council on Jan. 12 and the Organization for Security and Cooperation on Jan. 13.
  • Russia has stressed that it needs to see "concrete" and swift results in response to its security demands, which include legal guarantees that NATO will not expand to the east.

What they're saying: "I believe that if Russia is serious about pursuing 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," Blinken said at the press conference.

  • "It's very hard to make actual progress in any of these areas in an atmosphere of escalation and threat, with a gun pointed to Ukraine's head," he added.
  • Blinken condemned Russia's "false narrative" that Ukraine is seeking to provoke a conflict, telling reporters: "That’s a little bit like the fox saying it had no choice but to attack the henhouse because somehow the hens presented a threat."

Between the lines: Blinken and Baerbock were both asked repeatedly about Nord Stream 2, a controversial pipeline that would circumvent Ukraine and deliver Russian gas directly to Germany.

  • The Biden administration opposes the pipeline and views it as a potential geopolitical weapon, but opted not to impose sanctions last spring to block its completion, citing the need for good relations with Germany.
  • "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," Blinken argued. He said it would be "difficult" to see the pipeline becoming operational if Russia renews its aggression toward Ukraine.

Baerbock opposed Nord Stream 2 on Germany's campaign trail, but now governs in a coalition whose leading party supports the pipeline.

  • She said the new German government wants to take "effective measures" on Nord Stream 2 if Russia invades Ukraine, but did not specify whether the project would be suspended.

What to watch: As Europe's biggest economic power and Russia's second-largest trade partner, Germany plays a crucial role in managing EU-Russia relations. It's not yet clear what the new government's approach to the Kremlin will be.

Go deeper

Jan 14, 2022 - World

U.S. accuses Russia of preparing "false flag" operation to attack Ukraine

Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

The U.S. claims to have information indicating that Russia has "already prepositioned a group of operatives to conduct a false-flag operation in eastern Ukraine," laying the groundwork for a potential pretext to invade, according to a U.S. official.

Why it matters: Diplomatic talks between the U.S., its European allies and Russia failed to produce a breakthrough this week, raising fears that Moscow will invade Ukraine and unleash a devastating new war.

Updated Jan 14, 2022 - World

U.S. confirms Russia arrested REvil ransomware hackers

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking in Moscow in June 2021. Photo: Alexei Nikolsky/TASS via Getty Images

Russia's security agency said Friday it arrested members of the Russia-based cyber gang REvil that was responsible for multiple massive ransomware attacks against U.S. companies last year.

The latest: A senior administration official confirmed on Friday afternoon that Russia informed the U.S. that it arrested the alleged hackers, including an individual responsible for the cyberattack that crippled the Colonial Pipeline.

Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling

Photo: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Starbucks has dropped plans to require that U.S. workers get the COVID vaccine or submit to weekly testing, the company announced Tuesday in a memo to employees.

Why it matters: The company's decision comes in response to the Supreme Court's ruling last week to block the Biden administration's COVID-19 vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.