U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Russia on Sunday that Washington knows “all of the tactics and techniques” that Moscow can deploy to undermine the Ukrainian government but will continue to engage in diplomatic talks in hopes of easing tensions in eastern Europe.
“It is certainly possible that the diplomacy the Russians are engaged in is simply going through the motions and it won't affect their ultimate decision about whether to invade or in some other way intervene, or not in Ukraine,” Blinken said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” show. “But we have a responsibility to see the diplomacy through for … as far and as long as we can go because it's the more responsible way to bring this to a closure.”
Late Sunday, the U.S. State Department said that "due to the continued threat of Russian military action," it had ordered the family members of diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv to leave the country. It also approved the voluntary departure of non-essential embassy staff.
The State Department said the move, which had been under consideration for some time, did not constitute an evacuation. It said the embassy in Kyiv would remain open.
The statement issued a travel advisory, warning Americans to not travel to Ukraine and urged U.S. citizens in Ukraine to "consider departing now using commercial or other privately available transportation options.”
Meanwhile, in a separate interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” show, Blinken ruled out the United States immediately imposing severe economic sanctions on Moscow, which it has vowed to do if Russian President Vladimir Putin invades Ukraine. Russia has massed 127,000 troops just across its border with Ukraine, a former Soviet republic.
“If they’re triggered now,” Blinken said of the possible sanctions, “you lose the deterrent factor.”
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Republican Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa, following Blinken on CNN, accused the administration of President Joe Biden of a “doctrine of appeasement” in dealing with Russia over threats to Ukraine.
“The sanctions need to be imposed now,” Ernst said. “President Putin only understands strength and power. We need to have firm resolve.”
Blinken declined to comment on a British intelligence report that Russia was seeking to replace Ukraine’s government with a pro-Moscow administration. Moscow rejected the claim.
“The disinformation spread by the British Foreign Office is more evidence that it is the NATO countries, led by the Anglo-Saxons, who are escalating tensions around Ukraine," Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on the Telegram messaging app. "We call on the British Foreign Office to stop provocative activities, stop spreading nonsense."
Blinken, on NBC, said that aside from the world’s awareness of Russia’s massive troop deployment near Ukraine, “It's also important that people around the world, whether it's in Europe, the United States, or beyond, understand the kinds of things that could be in the offing: a false flag operation to try and create a false pretext for going in. It's important that people know that that's something that's in the playbook too,” as well as cyberattacks and other disruption targeting Ukraine.
The top U.S. diplomat said that aside from diplomatic engagement with Russia, “We are building up defense, we're building up deterrence; we've now provided to Ukraine more security assistance this year than in any previous year.”
On Saturday, Blinken said he had authorized the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to send U.S.-made anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine.
“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.
“We are preparing massive consequences for Russia if it invades Ukraine again,” Blinken told NBC. “So, you have to do both at the same time. You build up your defense, you build up your deterrence on the one hand; you engage in diplomacy and dialogue on the other. That's the way that I think it makes the most sense to carry this forward. Ultimately, we’ve given Russia two paths; it has to choose.”
“The Russians have put concerns on the table that they say they have about their security,” Blinken said. “We've exchanged some ideas. We'll be sharing with the Russians in writing not only our concerns, but some ideas for a way forward that could enhance mutual security on a reciprocal basis.”
“So, look, that is clearly the preferable path forward for everyone,” he said. “It’s the responsible thing to do. And we'll pursue it as long as we can. At the same time, we'll continue to build up other defenses and deterrents that are necessary.”
Some material in this report came from the Associated Press.