Blinken Warns Russia Could Invade Ukraine At Any Time As Diplomacy Heats Up

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says Russia continues to amass troops at its border with Ukraine and could launch an invasion any time, including during the Winter Olympics in Beijing.

He said Washington was continuing to “draw down” its embassy staff in Kyiv and repeated a State Department call to U.S. citizens in Ukraine to leave the country immediately.

“Simply put, we continue to see very troubling signs of Russian escalation, including new forces arriving at the Ukrainian border,” Blinken told a news conference in the Australian city of Melbourne on February 11.

“As we’ve said before, we’re in a window when an invasion could begin at any time, and to be clear, that includes during the Olympics.”

Russia, which has moved more than 100,000 troops to areas near Ukraine’s borders, denies Western accusations it may be planning an invasion. Russia is also holding military drills in Belarus involving some 30,000 troops, fueling further fears.

The Winter Olympics are being hosted by Beijing until February 20 and countries traditionally, though not always, adhere to a truce to stop all hostilities through the course of the Games.

The U.S. State Department urged Americans in Ukraine to leave immediately because of what it called increased threats of Russian military action and Blinken said Washington would continue to draw down its embassy.

“We will continue that process and we’ve also been very clear that any American citizens who remain in Ukraine should leave now,” Blinken said.

Blinken’s comments come amid increased diplomatic activity to ease tensions.

As part of Britain’s coordinated diplomatic effort, Defense Secretary Ben Wallace is expected to arrive in Moscow on February 11 after saying the day before that Western allies were seeking to protect countries’ rights, whether or not they are in NATO.

“What we’re really all trying to do, whether you’re in NATO or not in NATO, is protect the sovereign right of countries to choose their security alliances,” Ben Wallace told Times Radio on February 10.

Separately, domestic reports in Romania say that NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg is scheduled to meet the member state’s president and to visit a military base on February 11.

Britain and its prime minister, Boris Johnson, are seeking to take a leading role in Western efforts to warn Russia about its actions while at the same time attempting to tamp down tensions.

During a visit to Brussels on February 10, Johnson warned the Kremlin that Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine has triggered Europe’s most serious security crisis in decades.

That came as Britain’s top diplomat, Liz Truss, met in Moscow with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. She called on Moscow to withdraw its troops from near Ukraine to show it is really interested in diplomacy.

“I can’t see any other reason for having 100,000 troops stationed on the Ukrainian border apart from to threaten Ukraine, and if Russia is serious about diplomacy they need to move those troops and desist from the threats,” Truss told a news conference after her talks with Lavrov.

Lavrov in turn said Russia rejected “ultimatums and threats” and that its interests need to be taken into consideration and respected if there is to be a de-escalation to the crisis.

In Romania, President Klaus Iohannis’s agenda indicates a meeting is scheduled with NATO chief Stoltenberg at the Mihail Kogalniceanu air base on February 11.

As part of NATO efforts to reassure eastern allies in the face of Russian moves, Washington has said it would send nearly 3,000 extra troops to Poland and Romania.

The first U.S. troops arrived at a military base in southeastern Poland on February 5 and others arrived in Romania on February 10.

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