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US Secretary of State to visit Ukraine as Russia tensions escalate

US secretary of state Antony Blinken will visit Ukraine this week as tensions between Washington and Moscow escalate over a possible Russian invasion of its neighbour, the State Department said.

He will be in Kyiv on Tuesday on a hastily arranged trip to show US support following inconclusive diplomatic talks between Moscow and the West in Europe last week that failed to resolve disagreements over Ukraine and other security matters.

The meetings appear to have increased fears of a Russian invasion, and the Biden administration has accused Moscow of preparing a “false flag operation” to use as a pretext for intervention. Russia has denied the charge.

Mr Blinken will travel on Thursday to Berlin, where he will meet his German, British and French counterparts to discuss a possible response to any Russian military action.

The Kremlin has massed 100,000 troops with tanks and other heavy weapons on its own soil near the Ukrainian border in what many observers believe may be preparation for an invasion.

Mr Blinken will meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba on Wednesday “to reinforce the United States’ commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”, the State Department said.

“The trip follows extensive diplomacy with our European allies and partners about a united approach to address the threat Russia poses to Ukraine and our joint efforts to encourage it to choose diplomacy and de-escalation in the interests of security and stability,” a statement said.

On Monday, Russia’s leading diplomat rejected the US allegations that it was preparing a pretext to invade Ukraine. Speaking to reporters, foreign minister Sergey Lavrov dismissed the US claim as “total disinformation”.

He reaffirmed that Russia expects a written response this week from the US and its allies to its request for binding guarantees that Nato will not embrace Ukraine or any other ex-Soviet nations or station its forces and weapons there.

Washington and its allies rejected Moscow’s demands during last week’s Russia-US negotiations in Geneva and a related Nato-Russia meeting in Brussels.

The White House said on Friday that US intelligence officials had concluded that Russia had already deployed operatives to rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine to carry out acts of sabotage there and blame them on Ukraine to create a pretext for possible invasion.

Ahead of Mr Blinken’s visit to Kyiv, a delegation of US senators was visiting Ukraine to emphasise congressional support for the country.

“Our bipartisan congressional delegation sends a clear message to the global community: the United States stands in unwavering support of our Ukrainian partners to defend their sovereignty and in the face of persistent Russian aggression,” senator Jeanne Shaheen said in a statement.

Speaking on Monday on a visit to Kyiv, German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock warned that “any further escalation would carry a high price for the Russian regime – economic, political and strategic”, and emphasised the need to continue negotiations.

“We are prepared to have a serious dialogue with Russia, because diplomacy is the only way to defuse this highly dangerous situation at the moment,” she said.

Russia seized the Crimean peninsula after the removal of Ukraine’s Moscow-friendly leader and in 2014 also threw its weight behind a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

More than 14,000 people have been killed in nearly eight years of fighting between the Russia-backed rebels and Ukrainian forces in the country’s industrial heartland called Donbas.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that Moscow will take unspecified “military-technical measures” if the West rejects its demands.

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