Blinken warns Russia on Ukraine issue

Antony Blinken

San Francisco: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday criticized the vote by Russia’s lower house of parliament asking President Vladimir Putin to recognize two Russian-backed breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as independent, calling it illegal.

Enactment of the resolution would undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty, violate international law, call into question Russia’s stated commitment to continue to engage in diplomacy and necessitate a swift and firm response from the United States in full coordination with our Allies and partners, Blinken said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Russia said on Wednesday it was returning more troops and weapons to bases, yet another gesture apparently aimed at easing fears it is planning to invade Ukraine, even as the US said the threat of an attack remained.

Russia has massed about 150,000 troops east, north and south of Ukraine, sparking Western concerns it was planning an assault. There have been no indications of a significant withdrawal of those forces, but this week has seen a handful of gestures from Moscow that offered hope that Europe might avoid war following weeks of escalating East-West tensions.

The Russian Defence Ministry released a video showing a trainload of armoured vehicles moving across a bridge away from Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014. It said the movement was part of a return of forces to their permanent bases.

A day earlier, the ministry reported the start of a pullback of troops following military exercises near Ukraine. And Russian President Vladimir Putin signalled he wanted a diplomatic path out of the crisis, emphasising that he did not want war and would rely on negotiations to achieve his key goal of keeping Ukraine from joining NATO.