RIGA - We are deeply concerned by evidence that Russia has made plans for significant aggressive moves against Ukraine. The plans include efforts to destabilize Ukraine from within, as well as large scale military operations, said US Secretary of State Antonu Blinkens after the NATO foreign ministers meeting in Riga.
He said that in recent weeks, Russia has stepped up planning for potential military action in Ukraine, including positioning tens of thousands of additional combat forces near the Ukrainian border. The Lukashenko regime in Belarus has callously exploited the desperation of thousands of migrants to provoke a crisis along Belarus’s borders with Latvia, Poland, and Lithuania.
Also he noted that three months after Operation Resolute Support in Afghanistan ended, the alliance remains focused on the fight against terrorism, including ISIS-K. "And we’re pressing ahead in writing a new Strategic Concept for NATO to make sure the alliance is prepared for emerging threats in a changing world," Blinken said.
Speaking about Ukraine and Russia, Blinken said that the same Russia's methods were seen back in 2014 when it invaded Ukraine's territory. "Then, as now, they significantly increased combat forces near the border. Then, as now, they intensified disinformation to paint Ukraine as the aggressor to justify pre-planned military action. We’ve seen that tactic again in just the past 24 hours," he said.
"We don’t know whether President Putin has made the decision to invade. We do know that he is putting in place the capacity to do so on short order should he so decide. So despite uncertainty about intentions and timing, we must prepare for all contingencies while working to see to it that Russia reverses course. The United States has been engaging intensively with allies and partners on this issue, and directly with President Putin. President Biden convened the leaders of the United Kingdom, France, and Germany on the situation in Ukraine at the G20 meeting in Rome a few weeks ago," said Blinken.
"We’ve made it clear to the Kremlin that we will respond resolutely, including with a range of high-impact economic measures that we’ve refrained from using in the past," said the US secretary of state.
Blinken said that the United States remains unwavering in its support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and committed to its security partnership with Ukraine.
Diplomacy is the only responsible way to resolve this potential crisis, he said. "The United States reaffirms our support for diplomacy and for implementing the Minsk agreements. We call on all sides to restore the ceasefire to July 2020 levels. And we urge Russia to de-escalate, to reverse the recent troop buildup, to return forces to normal peace-time positions, to pull back heavy weapons and forces from the line of contact in eastern Ukraine, to refrain from further intimidation and attempts to destabilize Ukraine internally, and to leave plans for further military action behind," Blinken said.
Speaking about Belarus, in light of the destabilizing actions taken by the Lukashenka regime, the North Atlantic Council has suspended cooperation with Belarus. The United States is preparing additional sanctions in close coordination with the European Union and other partners and allies. "We call on the regime to immediately stop using migrants as political weapons. We will hold the regime accountable for its ongoing disregard for democracy, for human rights, for the rule of law," he said.
Blinken also spoke about the new Strategic Concept for NATO. "The work that we’ll do on that Strategic Concept between now and the summit next year is vitally important for modernizing our alliance, making sure that it’s able to address challenges we’ll face in the future, fostering unity among the Allies as we navigate an increasingly complex and unpredictable security environment. I think as you know, the current Strategic Concept, the one that we’re operating under now, dates to 2010, when Russia was considered a partner, China was not mentioned, and the alliance did not yet account for new challenges like cyber threats and the climate crisis," he said.
Blinken said that the United States is deeply committed to NATO. "It’s critical to our security. It’s built on shared values. It’s a powerful force for stability in Europe and North America. And at a moment when many democracies are facing serious challenges and the international rules-based order is increasingly under threat, NATO must remain strong; it must remain united. President Biden has made revitalizing America’s alliances, starting with NATO, a number-one priority. And our commitment to the security of our Allies and to Article 5 – an attack on one is an attack on all – is ironclad," he said.