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US Boosts Military Aid to Ukraine      01/19 06:12

   As U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits Ukraine, the Biden 
administration said Wednesday it's providing an additional $200 million in 
defensive military aid to the country amid soaring fears of a Russian invasion.

   KYIV, Ukraine (AP) -- As U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits 
Ukraine, the Biden administration said Wednesday it's providing an additional 
$200 million in defensive military aid to the country amid soaring fears of a 
Russian invasion.

   A senior U.S. State Department official said the assistance was approved in 
late December as part of American efforts to help Ukraine protect itself. Until 
Wednesday, however, the administration had refused to comment on it. The 
official wasn't authorized to discuss the matter publicly before Blinken's 
meetings in Kyiv and spoke on condition of anonymity.

   "We are committed to Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity and 
will continue to provide Ukraine the support it needs," the official said. The 
official did not detail the contents of the aid package.

   The announcement came as Blinken opened a hastily arranged visit to Kyiv as 
he and other administration officials step up warnings about a possible Russian 
invasion of Ukraine. The White House said Tuesday that Russia could at any 
point launch an attack in Ukraine.

   In comments to U.S. Embassy staff in Kyiv, Blinken went further by saying 
that Russian President Vladimir Putin has plans to significantly enhance 
Moscow's military presence near Ukraine's border, which now numbers roughly 
100,000 troops.

   "We know that there are plans in place to increase that force even more on 
very short notice and that gives President Putin the capacity, also on very 
short notice, to take further aggressive action against Ukraine," Blinken said.

   After his meetings with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other senior 
Ukrainian officials and a short trip to Berlin for talks with German and other 
European allies on Thursday, Blinken will see his Russian counterpart in Geneva 
on Friday. That meeting is aimed at testing Russia's willingness to resolve the 
crisis diplomatically, officials said.

   "We're now at a stage where Russia could at any point launch an attack in 
Ukraine," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday. "And what 
Secretary Blinken is going to go do is highlight very clearly there is a 
diplomatic path forward."

   The administration and its European allies have accused Putin of creating 
the crisis by massing troops along Ukraine's borders and it is up to him and 
the Russians to decide whether to invade and suffer severe economic 
consequences.

   The U.S. has not concluded whether Putin plans to invade or whether the show 
of force is intended to squeeze security concessions without an actual 
conflict. Russia has brushed off calls to withdraw its troops by saying it has 
a right to deploy its forces wherever it likes on its own territory.

   Blinken's meetings follow inconclusive diplomatic talks between Moscow and 
the West in Europe last week that failed to resolve stark disagreements over 
Ukraine and other security matters.

   Instead, those meetings appear to have increased fears of a Russian 
invasion, and the Biden administration has accused Russia of preparing a "false 
flag operation" to use as a pretext for intervention. Russia has angrily denied 
the charge.

   From Kyiv, Blinken will travel to Berlin, where he will meet with his 
German, British and French counterparts to discuss a possible response to any 
Russian military action. In Geneva on Friday, Blinken will be testing Russian 
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Russia's interest in a "diplomatic off-ramp" 
for the crisis, the State Department said.

   "The trip follows extensive diplomacy with our European Allies and partners 
about a united approach to address the threat Russia poses to Ukraine and our 
joint efforts to encourage it to choose diplomacy and de-escalation in the 
interests of security and stability," the department said.

   CIA Director William Burns visited Kyiv last Wednesday to consult with his 
Ukrainian counterparts and discuss current assessments of the risk to Ukraine, 
a U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss Burns' 
schedule, which is classified. While there, he also discussed the current 
situation with Zelenskyy and efforts to de-escalate tensions.

   Blinken spoke by phone Tuesday with Lavrov, discussing the diplomatic talks 
and meetings held last week. The State Department said Blinken "stressed the 
importance of continuing a diplomatic path to de-escalate tensions" surrounding 
the Russia-Ukraine situation and "reiterated the unshakable U.S. commitment" to 
Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

   Russia has rejected the U.S. allegations that it's preparing a pretext to 
invade Ukraine. Lavrov dismissed the U.S. claim as "total disinformation."

   Lavrov reaffirmed that Russia expects a written response this week from the 
U.S. and its allies to Moscow's request for binding guarantees that NATO will 
not embrace Ukraine or any other ex-Soviet countries or station its forces and 
weapons there.

   Blinken underscored to Lavrov on Tuesday that any discussion of European 
security "must include NATO Allies and European partners, including Ukraine," 
the State Department said.

   The Russian Foreign Ministry said Lavrov emphasized in the call with Blinken 
the key aspects of Russian draft documents envisaging "legally binding 
guarantees of Russia's security in line with the principle of indivisibility of 
security approved by all countries in the Euro-Atlantic." It said Lavrov 
stressed the importance for Washington to quickly deliver a written response to 
the Russian proposals.

   Washington and its allies firmly rejected Moscow's demands during last 
week's Russia-U.S. negotiations in Geneva and a related NATO-Russia meeting in 
Brussels.

   The White House said Friday that U.S. intelligence officials had concluded 
that Russia had already deployed operatives to rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine 
to carry out acts of sabotage there and blame them on Ukraine to create a 
pretext for possible invasion.

   Ahead of Blinken's visit to Kyiv, a delegation of U.S. senators was visiting 
Ukraine to emphasize congressional support for the country.

   Speaking Monday on a visit to Kyiv, German Foreign Minister Annalena 
Baerbock warned that "any further escalation would carry a high price for the 
Russian regime -- economic, political and strategic," and she emphasized the 
need to continue negotiations.

   Russia in 2014 seized the Crimean Peninsula after the ouster of Ukraine's 
Moscow-friendly leader and also threw its weight behind a separatist insurgency 
in eastern Ukraine. More than 14,000 people have been killed in nearly eight 
years of fighting between the Russia-backed rebels and Ukrainian forces in the 
country's industrial heartland called Donbas.

   Putin has warned that Moscow will take unspecified "military-technical 
measures" if the West stonewalls its demands.

 
 
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