Blinken to return to Brussels for talks on Ukraine, Afghanistan

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a press briefing at the end of a NATO Foreign Ministers' meeting at the Alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, 24 March 2021. [Pool/EPA/EFE]

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will return to Brussels this week for discussions on Iran, Afghanistan and Russian activities directed at Ukraine, a US official said.

Blinken will join US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in Brussels. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity on Saturday (10 April), did not release additional details on the trip.

Austin was scheduled to visit NATO headquarters in Belgium on a trip that started on Saturday and also includes Israel, Germany and Britain, the Pentagon said last week.

The trip by two of President Joe Biden’s Cabinet members coincides with increasing tensions over Russian activities near Ukraine’s eastern border, where Washington says Russia has amassed more troops than at any time since 2014, when it annexed Crimea.

Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Ukraine on Friday of “dangerous provocative actions” in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region.

Russia warns new Donbas conflict could 'destroy' Ukraine, NATO rebukes Moscow

Russia warned on Thursday (1 April) that a serious escalation in the conflict in Donbas could “destroy” Ukraine as NATO voiced concern over what it said was a big Russian military build-up near eastern Ukraine.

Turkey, a NATO ally, said on Friday the United States would deploy two warships to the Black Sea from 14-15 April.

Blinken first visited Brussels in March for talks with European Union and NATO allies and pledged to rebuild and revitalize trans-Atlantic alliances.

Ukraine’s defence minister said on Saturday his country could be provoked by Russian aggravation of the situation in the conflict area of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.

The minister, Andrii Taran, said Russian accusations about the rights of Russian-speakers being violated could be the reason for the resumption of armed aggression against Ukraine.

“At the same time, it should be noted that the intensification of the armed aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine is possible only if an appropriate political decision is made at the highest level in the Kremlin,” he said in a statement.

Kyiv has raised the alarm over a buildup of Russian forces near the border between Ukraine and Russia, and over a rise in violence along the line of contact separating Ukrainian troops and Russia-backed separatists in Donbas.

The Russian military movements have fuelled concerns that Moscow is preparing to send forces into Ukraine. The Kremlin denies its troops are a threat, but says they will remain as long as it sees fit.

Russia says it is in high-level contact with US over Ukraine

Russia said on Monday (5 April) it was in high-level contact with the United States about tensions over Ukraine and dismissed fears of a Russian military buildup even as it vowed to respond to new Ukrainian sanctions.

The Kremlin said on Sunday some of the conditions outlined in the Minsk peace accords on eastern Ukraine must be met before a further round of peace talks can go ahead, Russian news agencies reported.

Political advisers are working on a possible round of such talks under the so-called Normandy format, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying on a state television channel. The agencies did not immediately give further details.

The Normandy format brought together the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France to help end the conflict in eastern Ukraine between Kyiv’s forces and pro-Russian separatists.

Merkel tells Putin to pull back troops as Kremlin accuses Ukraine of provocations

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday (8 April) to pull back the Kremlin’s military build-up near the border with Ukraine, while he in turn accused Kyiv of “provocative actions” in the conflict region.

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