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  02 Dec 2021, 08:59
Update : 02 Dec 2021, 10:17

US, Russian foreign ministers to meet as Ukraine tensions soar

  STOCKHOLM, Dec 2, 2021 (BSS/AFP) - The chief diplomats of the US and Russia
are to meet in Sweden on Thursday as tensions soar after Washington expressed
concern about Russia's military buildup near Ukraine and warned of "high-
impact" sanctions.

  US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Russian counterpart Sergei
Lavrov are to hold talks near Stockholm on the sidelines of a ministerial
meeting of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

  The OSCE is one of the few international dialogue forums to which both the
US and Russia belong.

  Since Russia's invasion of Crimea in 2014, the body has been tasked with
monitoring the respect of peace accords aimed at resolving the conflict with
separatists in eastern Ukraine.

  Kiev's Western allies have in recent weeks been sounding the alarm about
Russia massing troops along Ukraine's borders, amid fears of a possible
invasion.

  Moscow, which is accused of backing the separatists fighting Kiev, has
denied preparing an attack and accuses NATO of stoking tensions.

  - 'We will respond resolutely' -

  At a NATO meeting in Latvia's capital Riga on Wednesday, Blinken said he
was "deeply concerned by evidence that Russia has made plans for significant
aggressive moves against Ukraine."

  "We don't know whether President Putin has made the decision to invade. We
do know that he's putting in place the capacity to do so on short order,
should he so decide," he said.

  Blinken insisted "diplomacy is the only responsible way to resolve this
potential crisis" but warned there would be "far-reaching and long-lasting
consequences" for Moscow if it pushed ahead with any aggression.

  "We made it clear to the Kremlin that we will respond resolutely, including
with a range of high-impact economic measures that we've refrained from using
in the past," Blinken said.

  Moscow on Wednesday hit back by accusing Ukraine of massing tens of
thousands of troops in the country's east, as worries grow over an
escalation.

  Putin also called for talks with the West aimed at providing "legal
guarantees" against NATO's further eastward expansion and the deployment of
any weapons systems near the Russian border.

  After a large part of Eastern Europe joined the US-led bloc following the
fall of the Soviet Union, Moscow refuses to accept that Ukraine may one day
follow suit -- even though Kiev's membership talks are currently stalled.

  For his part, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for direct
talks with Moscow over the festering conflict with separatists in the east of
his country, which has already left 13,000 dead.

  - 'Crucial moment' -

  Prior to meeting Lavrov, Blinken is due to hold talks with his Ukrainian
counterpart Dmytro Kuleba on the sidelines of the OSCE meeting, held near
Stockholm's Arlanda airport.

  In addition to Ukraine, other issues likely to be discussed include the
migrant crisis on the Belarus-EU border and the resurgence of clashes between
OSCE members Armenia and Azerbaijan.

  Planned long ago, the OSCE meeting "comes at a crucial moment", the US
ambassador to the body, Michael Carpenter, said as tensions spike on Europe's
doorstep.

  The EU reached an agreement Wednesday on new sanctions against Belarus, and
the US would follow suit soon, the US State Department said.

  The OSCE ministers' plenary session is not expected to lead to the adoption
of any major agreements, as unanimity is required.

  Moscow frequently blocks resolutions on Ukraine, because Crimea is
described as Ukrainian or Russia is characterised as a direct actor in the
conflict, while Moscow officially sees it as an internal Ukrainian conflict.

  The Blinken-Lavrov talks are the first high-level meeting between the two
superpowers since a summit between presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin in
Geneva in June.

  The two foreign ministers already met in May, at an Arctic Council meeting
in Iceland.

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