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Blinken Set To Meet Lavrov With Nerves On Edge Over Russian Troop Buildup Near Ukraine.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is scheduled to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Stockholm on December 2 amid escalating tensions over a buildup of Russian troops near its border with Ukraine.
The meeting is set to take place on the sidelines of a summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and comes after a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Riga, Latvia, where Blinken expressed U.S. concerns about Russia's military operations and what he said were its efforts to destabilize Ukraine from within. Ukraine and Western officials say Russia has kept tens of thousands of troops and heavy equipment near the Ukrainian border since war games held in western Russia earlier this year. "We don't know whether President (Vladimir) Putin has made the decision to invade. We do know that he's putting in place the capacity to do so in short order, should he so decide," said Blinken after. In his meeting with Lavrov, Blinken is expected to spell out the threat of further sanctions if Russia fails to end the troop buildup. The United States is ready to respond with "a range of high-impact economic measures that we have refrained from pursuing in the past," Blinken said in Riga. He also said a diplomatic path forward is available. "The Russians say that they believe the Minsk agreement should be implemented. The Ukrainians say the same thing," Blinken said in an interview with Latvian state television, referring to the agreements brokered by France and Germany in 2014 to find a political solution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine. "Well, I think if that were to happen, that at least would resolve the problem in the Donbas in eastern Ukraine." But there has to be a clear understanding that "if there's further aggression in Ukraine, there'll be consequences," Blinken said. Russia, which backs separatists fighting against Kyiv in eastern Ukraine, denies it is plotting an attack. Moscow blames Ukraine and its Western backers for fanning tensions, pointing to what it says is a similar Ukrainian military buildup.

Russia also has warned NATO against deploying troops and weapons to Ukraine, a former Soviet republic that aspires to join the European Union and NATO, moves opposed by Russia.
Putin said on December 1 he wants legal guarantees NATO would not expand further east and deploy weapons near Russia’s borders, a reference to Western arms supplies to Ukraine and joint military drills. “We aren't demanding any special conditions for ourselves and realize that any agreements must take interests of Russia and all Euro-Atlantic countries into account,” Putin said. “A calm and stable situation must be ensured for all and is needed for all without exclusion.” Speaking in Riga on December 1, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Kyiv will ask NATO to boost military cooperation and prepare economic sanctions as part of a “deterrence package" to prevent Russia from attacking. The diplomacy comes as efforts to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine have stalled. In an annual address to lawmakers on December 1, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called for “direct negotiations” with Moscow in order to end the war.
"We must talk, knowing that we have a strong and powerful army," Zelenskiy said, adding that is "not afraid" to speak directly with Putin. With reporting by Reuters

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