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Blinken visits Ukraine, warns of Russian attack at ‘short notice’

KYIV - Two days before a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Geneva, Foreign Minister Antony J. Blinken said on Wednesday that Russia could attack Ukraine "at very short notice" and warned of "confrontation and consequences for Russia" if it does.

Sir. Blinken made the remarks while speaking to US employees at the US embassy in the Ukrainian capital, where he landed on Wednesday morning in the latest show about US support for the country's crisis-stricken government.

Russia is already supporting an uprising in eastern Ukraine, and Moscow's decision to place a huge force around the country's eastern border was a source of enormous concern, Mr Blinken said.

"We know there are plans to increase that force even further at very short notice," he said, "and it gives President Putin the capacity, even at very short notice, to take further aggressive action against Ukraine."

Both the Kremlin and US officials sounded a pessimistic tone after a third round of negotiations on Eastern European security last week, in which a Russian diplomat said talks with the West were approaching a "dead end."

Against this bleak background, Mr Blinken met this morning with the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, and later with its Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba.

It was unclear whether Mr Blinken promised them some specific new aid measures to deter Moscow or to fight Russia's military in the event of a full-scale invasion, but a Foreign Ministry official confirmed on Wednesday that the Biden administration last month approved an additional $ 200 million in defensive security assistance to Ukraine.

Mr. Blinken is due to meet with his Russian counterpart, Sergey V. Lavrov, on Friday in Geneva. U.S. officials have downplayed hopes of any breakthrough at the meeting, which they have described as an opportunity to test whether Moscow is serious about the talks. But the White House also said Tuesday that it hoped to highlight that "there is a diplomatic way forward."

Russia has placed about 100,000 troops along its western border with Ukraine, although exact estimates vary. On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said "Russia could launch an attack on Ukraine at any time."

Russian officials insist that the United States provide a formal, written response to a series of demands issued by the Kremlin, which included a legally binding promise from NATO never to admit Ukraine as a member.

U.S. officials have given no indication that Mr. Blinken will provide such a document to Mr. Lavrov.

In a speech at a forum in Moscow on Wednesday, Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei A. Ryabkov reiterated his government's previous denial that Moscow has any plans to move its forces into Ukraine.

"We will not attack, attack, invade, quote, no matter what, Ukraine," said Mr. Ryabkov. He said Russian troops around the Ukrainian border were conducting training exercises.

Also on Wednesday, Mr Kuleba spoke by telephone with Josep Borrell Fontelles, the EU's top diplomat, about economic sanctions that the bloc could impose on Russia and further financial support for Ukraine, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said.

"All EU countries should understand that even if the price of deterring Russia is high, the cost of stopping a new war will be higher," if it starts, Kuleba said after the call, local media reported.

Kuleba said the two discussed economic policies to both deter Russia and to support Ukraine. The European diplomat agreed "that one of Russia's goals is to destabilize Ukraine" economically and that the EU was ready to help, Kuleba said.

Michael Crowley and Andrew E. Kramer reported from Kiev, and Anton Troianovski from Moscow.

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