Diplomats warn Russia of ‘massive consequences’ if it invades Ukraine

LIVERPOOL, England – Top diplomats from the world’s richest major democracies on Sunday warned Russia of “massive consequences” and “high costs” if it invades Ukraine or continues its military assaults near its border.

The Group of 7 foreign ministers urged Russia to pull out of the tense border standoff and made it clear that any effort to negotiate or avoid confrontation would be welcome.

“Any use of force to change borders is strictly prohibited by international law,” they said in a statement. “Russia should have no doubts that a new military aggression against Ukraine would have massive consequences and a high cost in response.”

Their statement largely echoed earlier remonstrances from Western officials over the past week after Russia massed up to 100,000 troops at Ukraine’s eastern, northern and southern borders. On Tuesday, in a two-hour video call, President Biden himself warned President Vladimir V. Putin of unprecedented and painful economic and other sanctions if Russia enters into force in Ukraine and called for de-escalation and to diplomacy.

But he promised Mr. Putin some sort of diplomatic discussion on European security, which has already disturbed some American allies.

Mr Putin laid out a set of Russian goals that seem unattainable, including a written guarantee from NATO withdrawing a 2008 NATO pledge to integrate Ukraine and Georgia into the alliance at some point. (a request already rejected by Washington), and a promise not to deploy weapons in countries bordering Russia or to organize military exercises at a certain distance from Russia.

Sunday’s warning also included Japan among countries now condemning Russia’s military build-up, and it was released separately from the ministers’ summary of a host of issues being discussed – including the complicated relations with China and the United States. Iran and the acceleration of the distribution of the coronavirus vaccine – after two days of meetings in Liverpool, in the north of England.

“What we have shown this weekend is that the world’s biggest economies are united,” British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told reporters in Liverpool. “We have sent a powerful signal to our adversaries and to our allies. We have been clear that any Russian incursion into Ukraine would have massive consequences for which there would be a high cost. “

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken reiterated this on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program on Sunday, and added that the deterrence of Russian aggression was about “the basic rules of the road of the international system.” .

“One country cannot exercise a sphere of influence over others,” he said. “This is what Russia claims to be asserting. And if we let this go with impunity, then the whole system that provides stability, prevents war from breaking out, is in danger. “

The Group of 7 – Great Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States – represents about half of the world economy. Diplomats representing the European Union also attended the talks.

Officials have said that the Russian military could be ready to invade Ukraine as early as January or February, although there is no indication that Mr Putin has decided to do so.

Information leaked by the United States indicated that the Russian military had devised a war plan that called for up to 175,000 troops flocking across the Ukrainian border – a force that the Ukrainian army, despite the equipment and the training provided by the United States, would have little ability to stop.

Mr Putin dismissed concerns about the build-up of troops on the Ukrainian border and instead said the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization were threatening the security of Russia by backing the Ukrainian army with weapons and training.

On Sunday, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry S. Peskov said the Kremlin was ready to continue what he described as an already substantial conversation on “the conflictual situation which has now arisen in Europe around the ‘Ukraine,’ according to the Russian news agency. Interfax.

Peskov also said reports of Russian troops at the Ukrainian border “exacerbated the information tension”.

“This is done precisely with the aim of further demonizing Russia,” he said in an interview on Sunday, according to the state news agency Tass.

The statement released by the Group of 7 ministers did not specify what sanctions Russia would face in the event of an invasion. The White House has warned that it is ready to take action against the also unspecified Russia that the United States resisted in 2014, after Mr. Putin’s government annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. It could also lead NATO to reposition its troops in Europe.

A senior State Department official who attended the talks in Liverpool said the joint statement showed the Group of 7 and the European Union were “absolutely united” to impose tough sanctions on Russia if necessary. That was a remarkable description, given the debate over Russia’s separation from the global financial settlement system, known as SWIFT, which some European officials said could elicit too harsh a response.

“We reaffirm our unwavering commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” the statement said, adding that the signatories “will intensify our cooperation on our common and comprehensive response.”

The senior State Department official described the summit as “a series of very intense meetings” which also highlighted concerns about commandos working for the Wagner Group, a private mercenary force linked to the Kremlin, Libya and elsewhere. in Africa. The official accused the private force – which has also deployed in conflict zones in Belarus and the Middle East to promote Russian interests – of “causing extreme problems” in the Sahel, but failed to respond. details.

The official informed reporters traveling with Mr Blinken on condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatic talks more openly in Liverpool.

The State Department this week sent a senior official to Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, and Moscow for talks in an attempt to ease tensions. But the trip of the official, Karen Donfried, the assistant secretary of state who oversees US policy in Europe, “will also strengthen the United States’ commitment to the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine. “the department said in a statement.

Diplomats in Liverpool also discussed how to tackle what has been described as China’s human rights abuses and predatory economic partnerships with developing countries, as well as how to speed up humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, which faces vast food shortages, while holding the Taliban to account.

In addition, Ms Truss, the British Foreign Secretary, repeated her warning that the latest rounds of nuclear talks between world powers and Iran represented “Tehran’s last chance to come to the negotiating table with a resolution. serious ”. Diplomats are trying to revive the 2015 deal – from which the Trump administration withdrew the United States in 2018 – which limited Iran’s nuclear program in return for easing US financial sanctions.

But eight months of negotiations after Mr Biden took office and signaled his intention to join the deal have been a severe, and possibly fatal, setback on the part of Iran’s new leaders who demand the lifting of sanctions before d ” accept other conditions.

The talks, in their seventh round, continued in Vienna on Sunday. They recently resumed after a hiatus of more than five months, in which Iran elected a new, tougher government.

Germany’s new Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told Liverpool “time is running out” for a deal. Iran has decided to reject the compromises made in previous rounds, she said. The last round, she told reporters, “has shown in recent days that we have no progress.”

China and Russia have shown more patience with Iran, saying the talks are continuing, albeit slowly.

“There is still time for Iran to come and accept this deal,” Ms. Truss said.

The senior State Department official said talks in Liverpool included options for action against Iran if nuclear talks collapsed.

Steven erlanger contributed to reports from Brussels, and Mark Landler from London.

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