US Secretary of State Antony Blinken heads Thursday to Berlin for meetings with key European allies, as part of a whirlwind diplomatic tour to stop Russia from marching on Ukraine.
Blinken will seek a united front with counterparts from France and Germany as well as Britain’s junior foreign minister before his crunch talks with Russia’s Sergei Lavrov on Friday.
He had begun his tour on Wednesday with a first stop in Kiev as a show of support, as he urged Vladimir Putin to stay on a “diplomatic and peaceful path.”
In Washington, President Joe Biden said Russia would pay a stiff price for invading Ukraine, including a heavy human toll and deep harm to its economy.
“It is going to be a disaster for Russia,” Biden said, adding that Moscow might ultimately prevail, but its losses are “going to be heavy.”
Biden insisted that Putin “still does not want any full-blown war,” but said the standoff could “easily get out of hand.”
And the US leader said he was open to a summit with Putin about the situation.
With tens of thousands of Russian troops massed on the Ukrainian border, fears are mounting that a major conflict could break out in Europe.
Biden sparked controversy Wednesday when he suggested that “something significantly short of a significant invasion” would be met with a lesser pushback from NATO.
“It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion, and then we end up having a fight about what to do and not do, etcetera,” he said.
But the White House moved swiftly to clarify the comments, with Press Secretary Jen Psaki vowing any Russian movement in Ukraine would face “severe” retaliation.
Moscow insists it has no plans to invade but has at the same time laid down a series of demands—including a ban on Ukraine joining NATO—in exchange for de-escalation.
Washington has rejected Moscow’s demands as “non-starters” and NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg this week insisted that the alliance “will not compromise on core principles such as the right for each nation to choose its own path.”
The West has repeatedly warned Russia it would pay a “high price” of economic and political sanctions should it invade Ukraine.
With both sides’ positions entrenched, a series of talks between Western and Russian officials in Geneva, Brussels and Vienna has failed to yield any breakthrough.