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‘We want peace’: Blinken must meet Russian, Ukrainian officials, says USA

WASHINGTON, Jan. 18 (Reuters) - US President Joe Biden's top diplomat will try to end a crisis with Moscow over Ukraine when he meets with Russian Foreign Minister Geneva this week following visits to Ukrainian leaders in Kiev and European officials in Berlin.

Foreign Minister Antony Blinken will travel amid concerns expressed by Ukraine and its Western allies over the tens of thousands of Russian troops gathered in and near Ukraine.

"The United States does not want conflict. We want peace," a senior U.S. State Department official said Tuesday.

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"(Russian) President (Vladimir) Putin has the power to take steps to de-escalate this crisis so that the United States and Russia can pursue a relationship that is not based on hostility or crisis," the official told reporters.

Russia refuses to plan a new military offensive, but has made several demands, saying it could take unspecified military action unless the West accepts them. Read more .

On Wednesday, Blinken will meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

He will then meet in Berlin with German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and later Transatlantic Quad, referring to a format involving the United States, Britain, France and Germany.

A statement from the Foreign Ministry said the talks would focus in part on an allied readiness to impose "massive consequences and serious economic costs" on Russia.

Blinken will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva on Friday to seek a diplomatic exit with Moscow, the senior official said.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at the State Department briefing in Washington, DC, January 7, 2022. Andrew Harnik / Pool via REUTERS / File Photo

Blinken spoke with Lavrov on Tuesday, and the senior official said the two decided in the call that it would be helpful to meet in person.

Lavrov said separately that Moscow would welcome US diplomatic efforts and reiterated Russian accusations that Ukraine was "sabotaging" agreements aimed at ending the conflict between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Despite diplomatic commitments this month, Washington has not yet seen Russia escalate tensions, and Moscow could launch an attack on Ukraine at any time in January or February, the senior official said.

"We are now at a time when Russia can launch an attack on Ukraine at any time," the official said.

Another high-ranking Foreign Ministry official on Tuesday expressed concern that Russian troops have been deployed in Belarus since Monday near its southern flank with Ukraine for what Moscow and Minsk say will be joint military exercises. Read more

The number of Russian troops is higher than what the United States would expect in a normal exercise and could potentially be used to attack neighboring Ukraine, the official said.

Biden has warned of serious economic consequences for Moscow if Russia invades Ukraine.

Baerbock, in Moscow for talks with his counterpart, said Tuesday that Germany was ready to pay a high economic price to defend its core values ​​in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Read more

Kiev has sought weapons from Western nations to strengthen its defenses. On Monday, Britain said it had begun supplying Ukraine with anti-tank weapons to help it defend itself. Read more

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Reporting by Susan Heavey, Simon Lewis, Daphne Psaledakis and Jonathan Landay; Editing Howard Goller

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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