The United States believes bilateral talks with Russia over its massive troop buildup along the Ukrainian border could start in January, said the State Department's top diplomats, even as Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed the U.S. and its allies for tensions in the region.
"We're prepared to engage diplomatically through multiple channels," said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a press conference Tuesday.
"I think you'll see relatively early in the new year engagements in all of those areas, to see if we can advance the differences diplomatically," added Blinken, referring to the existing U.S.-Russia Strategic Stability Dialogue and through the NATO-Russia Council, as well as through the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
The top diplomat also warned of "massive consequences" if Russia "engages in further acts of aggression against Ukraine."
Meanwhile, Karen Donfried, assistant secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs, told reporters that the U.S. and Russia would agree on a specific date to begin talks on Moscow's demands that NATO give up any military activity in Eastern Europe and Ukraine.
But she warned, "We have made clear that any dialogue must be based on reciprocity, address our concerns about Russia's actions, and take place in full coordination with our European allies and partners."
"Let me be clear, there will be no talks on European security without Europe," Donfried said.
Russia has deployed 100,000 troops along its border with eastern Ukraine, according to Western estimates, after unilaterally annexing Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014. The U.S. has expressed concern that Russia could invade Ukraine early next year but does not believe Putin has decided whether to launch an attack.
U.S. President Joe Biden warned Putin two weeks ago during a virtual summit that the U.S. and its allies would impose devastating economic sanctions against Russia if it invades Ukraine.
Biden has ruled out a ground deployment of U.S. troops in the event of a Russian attack on Ukraine, but Washington has been sending small arms and ammunition to the Kyiv government, along with Javelin missiles the U.S. says Ukraine should use only for defensive purposes.
Putin, speaking to a meeting of Russia’s top military leaders, blamed the West for "tensions that are building up in Europe."
As part of the upcoming bilateral talks with the U.S., Putin is demanding that NATO, the post-World War II Western military alliance, deny possible membership to Ukraine and other former Soviet satellite countries, while curbing its military deployments in Central and Eastern Europe.
Putin said the Kremlin wants "long-term, legally binding guarantees" from the West, as opposed to "verbal assurances, words and promises" that it says it can't trust.
The Russian leader contended that if the U.S. and NATO place missile systems in Ukraine, it will take only minutes for them to reach Moscow.
"For us, it is the most serious challenge — a challenge to our security," he said,
“What is happening now, tensions that are building up in Europe, is [the U.S. and NATO's] fault every step of the way," the Russian leader said, ignoring Moscow’s takeover of Crimea.
"Russia has been forced to respond at every step,” Putin contended. “The situation kept worsening and worsening, deteriorating and deteriorating. And here we are today, in a situation when we're forced to resolve it somehow."
Putin said Moscow hopes for "constructive, meaningful talks with a visible end result — and within a certain time frame — that would ensure equal security for all."
"Armed conflicts, bloodshed is not our choice, and we don't want such developments,” Putin said. “We want to resolve issues by political and diplomatic means."
Tuesday, Blinken said there are "no plans" for now, when asked about another in-person meeting between Biden and Putin after both leaders met in person in Geneva in June, and then followed it with a video conference in December.
"We have to see if in the first instance there's any progress diplomatically. We also want to see Russia de-escalate, to move forces back from the border with Ukraine to take down the tension," Blinken told reporters.
Some material in this report came from Reuters and the Associated Press.