U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Saturday he authorized the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to send U.S.-made anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine, a move that comes amid Ukraine’s rising tensions with neighboring Russia.
“I expedited and authorized, and we fully endorse transfers of defensive equipment @NATO Allies Estonia Latvia Lithuania are providing to Ukraine to strengthen its ability to defend itself against Russia’s unprovoked and irresponsible aggression,” Blinken said in a post on Twitter.
Blinken also thanked the former Soviet republics and NATO members, “for their longstanding support to Ukraine.”
Blinken’s announced approval of the arms shipments came one day after the U.S. and Russia appeared to make little progress in the increasingly high-stakes standoff over Ukraine, each side leaving the latest round of high-level talks Friday promising only to keep talking.
U.S. President Joe Biden focused on Ukraine Saturday. In a statement the White House said, “President Biden met with his national security team in person and virtually at Camp David to discuss continued Russian aggressive actions toward Ukraine. President Biden was briefed on the current state of Russian military operations on Ukraine’s borders and discussed both our ongoing efforts to de-escalate the situation with diplomacy and our range of deterrence measures that are being coordinated closely with our Allies and partners, including ongoing deliveries of security assistance to Ukraine. President Biden again affirmed that should Russia further invade Ukraine, the United States will impose swift and severe consequences on Russia with our Allies and partners.”
CNN and Fox News were reporting Saturday that the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv asked the State Department for authorization to allow all nonessential staff and their families to leave.
A source close to the Ukrainian government told VOA that they had heard from their American contacts that evacuation for families and nonessential personnel is indeed being considered. According to the source, the evacuation plan was relayed by the Americans to the Ukrainian government on Friday.
A senior State Department official later told VOA that no order has come down, when asked if families of U.S. Embassy personnel in Ukraine have been ordered to begin evacuating as soon as Monday.
A State Department spokesperson also told VOA in an email that no such order was given by the agency and “We have nothing to announce at this time.”
“We conduct rigorous contingency planning, as we always do, in the event the security situation deteriorates,” the spokesperson added. “We are already at a Level Four travel advisory for Ukraine for COVID and have advised that U.S. citizens should be aware of reports that Russia is planning for significant military action against Ukraine.”
The spokesperson said if U.S. diplomats and their families must be evacuated, “American citizens should not anticipate that there will be U.S. government-sponsored evacuations,” and noted commercial flights to leave Ukraine are currently available.
Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met for about an hour and a half in Geneva, with both officials refusing to budge on core demands.
Blinken, in particular, described the impasse in stark terms.
“If any of Russia’s military forces move across the Ukrainian border, that’s a renewed invasion. It will be met with a swift, severe and a united response from the United States and our partners and allies,” Blinken told reporters after the meeting.
The West is demanding that Russia pull its troops and weapons away from the Ukraine border while Moscow is pushing for NATO to curtail its operations in eastern and central Europe and insisting that the Western military alliance reject Ukraine’s membership bid.
Blinken said the U.S. and its allies are prepared to address Russia’s concerns, though not without conditions.
“The United States, our allies and partners are prepared to pursue possible means of addressing them in a spirit of reciprocity, which means simply put that Russia must also address our concerns,” Blinken said.
“There are several steps we can take, all of us, Russia included, to increase transparency, to reduce risks, to advance arms control, to build trust,” Blinken added.
News reports say U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace is expected to meet Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu for talks in Moscow, although no date has been given.
U.S. officials say Russia has amassed nearly 100,000 troops along its border with Ukraine, including in Belarus and in occupied Crimea. Blinken warned earlier this month that Moscow could “mobilize twice that number on very short order."
“They have a significant force posture there and that hasn't decreased. In fact, it has continued to increase. And we remain concerned about that,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters Friday.
Despite such concerns from the U.S. and its allies, Lavrov on Friday sought to paint Ukraine as the aggressor.
“No one is hiding the fact that weapons are being handed over to Ukraine, that hundreds of military instructors are flocking to Ukraine right now,” Lavrov said.
Still, the Russian foreign minister called the talks “constructive and useful.”
Lavrov also said talks would continue over the Kremlin’s security demands and that both Russia and the U.S. had committed to put their concerns in writing for further discussion.
Both Lavrov and Blinken said there is a possibility that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Biden could talk, if both sides believe it might be helpful.
However, some of Russia’s renewed demands drew a sharper response from U.S. allies and partners, including NATO.
“NATO will not renounce our ability to protect and defend each other, including with the presence of troops in the eastern part of the alliance,” spokesperson Oana Lungescu said in a statement Friday, rejecting demands that NATO pull troops from Bulgaria and Romania.
“We will always respond to any deterioration of our security environment, including through strengthening our collective defense,” she said.
The U.S. also sought to reassure allies, including Kyiv.
Blinken “reaffirmed the United States’ unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” in a phone call Friday with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, the State Department said.
Amid the tensions and ongoing political maneuvering, the head of the United Nations appealed for calm.
“It is clear that my message is that there should not be any military intervention in this context,” said Secretary-General António Guterres. “I hope that this, of course, will not happen in the present circumstances. I am convinced it will not happen and I strongly hope to be right.”
VOA State Department Bureau Chief Nike Ching and VOA Russian service correspondent Mykhailo Komadovsky contributed to this report. Some material came from the Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.