U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has arrived in Berlin for another round of talks with European allies as Washington continues to try and ease tensions with Moscow amid a buildup of Russian troops on its border with Ukraine that many fear is a prelude to an attack at "very short notice."
Blinken will meet on January 20 with his counterparts from Germany, France, and the United Kingdom before heading to Geneva for talks the next day with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Alarms have been sounding throughout Western capitals about the danger of a new major conflict after Russia massed an estimated 127,000 troops along Ukraine's borders and deployed a sizable force in Belarus for what Moscow and Minsk say will be snap military exercises.
Blinken visited Kyiv on January 19 to reassure Ukraine that it had the support of Washington, saying that if Russia carries through with any aggressive moves against Ukraine, the United States is prepared to provide additional materials to Kyiv to help it defend itself.
U.S. President Joe Biden told a news conference late on January 19 that his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, likely hadn't decided and that Russia would face severe economic consequences should a military offensive occur.
"I'm not so sure he is certain what he is going to do. My guess is he will move in. He has to do something," Biden said at a wide-ranging press conference to mark his first year in office.
But Biden said an attack on Ukraine would be a "disaster for Russia," exerting a tremendous human, economic, and political toll on Moscow.
Blinken has voiced hope that despite indications that Russia continues massing troops near Ukraine, his upcoming talks with Lavrov will show "that diplomacy remains an open possibility."
"Unfortunately, we continue to see Russia having amassed very significant forces on Ukraine's borders. That process seems to continue. On the other hand, the fact that we are meeting in Geneva, the fact that we will be discussing the conversations and exchanges that we've had over the last 10 days, also suggests to me that diplomacy remains an open possibility," Blinken told VOA on January 19.
Echoing earlier remarks that he made at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, the chief U.S. diplomat said the path to a peaceful solution ultimately rests with Putin, since it was the Russian leader who prompted the West to beef up its defenses in the aftermath of Russia's annexation of Crimea almost eight years ago.
"When you think about it, President Putin, going back to 2014, has managed to precipitate what he says he wants to prevent, because, among other things, NATO had to reinforce itself after Russia invaded Ukraine, seized Crimea, the Donbas, after that happened," Blinken told VOA.
"So, we've laid out the consequences for Russia but also the far-preferable path of resolving differences diplomatically and we'll see which path President Putin decides to take."
Blinken's meetings in Berlin are expected to focus on "joint efforts to deter further Russian aggression against Ukraine" including the allies' "readiness to impose massive consequences and severe economic costs on Russia," according to State Department spokesman Ned Price.
Russia's deployment of forces along Ukraine's border, and in the occupied region of Crimea, is one of the largest unscheduled massing of forces since 2014.
Russia is also backing separatist fighters in an ongoing war in eastern Ukraine that has claimed more than 13,200 lives since April 2014.
Moscow has denied any plans to attack Ukraine and accused NATO of planning to admit the country as a member of the alliance, as well as deploy offensive weaponry there.
Last week, Russian diplomats met with top officials from the United States, NATO, and European countries to discuss the sweeping demands Moscow has made, which amount to a major restructuring of Europe's security architecture.
The talks yielded no breakthroughs, and that, plus belligerent rhetoric from Moscow, has alarmed Western officials.
Russia has maintained a tough posture, with officials saying there can't be any meaningful talks on possible further talks on arms control and confidence-building measures if the West doesn't heed Moscow's demands.