US Secretary of State Blinken is urging Russia’s Lavrov to take diplomacy out of the crisis in Ukraine

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, meets with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) meeting in Stockholm on 2 December.JONATHAN NACKSTRAND / AFP / Getty Images

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held a “serious, sober and business-like” meeting in which Blinken conveyed Washington’s desire to avoid conflict with Russia over Ukraine, a senior US official said on Thursday.

But Blinken also warned that Moscow would face sanctions in the event of an invasion, the official said.

There were no concrete breakthroughs in the negotiations to ease tensions between the West and Russia over troop deployments at Ukraine’s borders, but the two sides agreed to continue the dialogue on Ukraine, the official said.

Not long after the meeting, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it hoped a summit between President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden would take place in the coming days, but that no date had yet been set, the Interfax news agency reported.

Blinken delivered the warning to Lavrov at a meeting of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Stockholm, the day after declaring that Washington was ready to respond resolutely, including with hard-hitting sanctions, in the event of a Russian attack.

“The best way to avert the crisis is through diplomacy, and that’s what I look forward to discussing with Sergei,” Blinken told reporters before entering into dialogue with Lavrov.

He said Russia and Ukraine should fully implement their commitments during the 2014 peace process in Minsk, designed to end a war between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces in the eastern part of the former Soviet republic.

Washington was willing to facilitate this, Blinken said, but “if Russia decides to pursue the confrontation, there will be serious consequences”.

Lavrov told reporters before the meeting with Blinken that Moscow was ready for dialogue with Kiev. “We, as President Putin has stated, do not want any conflicts,” he said.

Ukraine has become the main hotspot between Russia and the West, as relations have soured to their worst level in the three decades since the end of the Cold War. Kiev says Russia has gathered more than 90,000 troops near their long common border.

Moscow accuses Kiev of pursuing its own military build-up. It has rejected as inflammatory proposal that it is preparing an attack on Ukraine and has defended its right to deploy troops on its own territory as it deems appropriate.

But President Vladimir Putin has also said that Russia would be forced to act if NATO placed missiles in Ukraine that could hit Moscow within minutes.

Earlier Thursday before talks with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, Blinken said NATO allies share a “steadfast commitment” to Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Kuleba tweeted that Ukraine, which is not a NATO member but seeks closer ties with the Atlantic Alliance, was working with Western countries on a “comprehensive deterrent package, including severe economic sanctions” to stop Russian aggression.

“The United States’ unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s territorial integrity, sovereignty, its independence … that is a view that not only the United States has, but also all of our NATO allies,” Blinken told Kuleba during their talks.

“It was very, very clear in the conversations we had over the last few days,” he added.

In a speech earlier at the OSCE meeting, Lavrov said that Moscow would soon make proposals for a new European Security Pact, which he said he hoped would prevent NATO from expanding further east. Lavrov said Europe was heading back to what he called the nightmare of military confrontation, saying he hoped Russia’s proposal would be carefully considered.

The Kremlin annexed the Crimean Peninsula Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and then supported insurgents fighting against Kiev’s government forces in the eastern part of the country. That conflict has killed 14,000 people, Kyiv says, and is still smoldering.

In addition to Ukraine, other issues, including cyber security and the Kremlin’s treatment of its critics, have also helped drive Washington-Moscow relations to the lows after the Cold War.

U.S. intelligence chief William Burns raised the issue of Russian cyberattacks earlier this month during a rare visit to Moscow, where he met with senior security officials, three sources told Reuters.

Another focus of East-West tensions has been the refugee crisis on the borders between Belarus, a Russian ally, and NATO members Poland and Lithuania.

Western nations accuse Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko of developing the migrant crisis in retaliation for sanctions imposed on Minsk because of its human rights status. Minsk blames the West for the humanitarian crisis.

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