Latest Ukraine updates: Blinken pledges ‘relentless’ diplomacy

Ukraine crisis news from January 19: US secretary of state says Washington working to ‘prevent aggression’ as fears grow of an imminent Russian invasion.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken gives a press conference
Blinken's trip aims to emphasise US support for Ukraine, which is nervously eyeing a Russian troop build-up near its borders [Alex Brandon/Pool via AP]

The United States says Russia is ready to attack Ukraine at “very short notice”, warning the country is facing an “unprecedented threat”.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made the comments on Wednesday in Kyiv, where he met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the start of a hastily arranged diplomatic push to defuse the growing crisis. Blinken will meet his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, on Friday in Geneva.

Blinken pledged to pursue “relentless” diplomacy to defuse the crisis.

Ukraine, the US and Kyiv’s other Western allies fear Russia may invade Ukraine soon, given Moscow’s deployment of thousands of troops near their shared border.

Russia says it is not planning an attack, instead blaming NATO for undermining the region’s security, and has issued a list of security demands it argues needs to be met to calm the existing tensions.

The live blog is now closed, thank you for joining us. Here are the updates for January 19.

US senators work on bipartisan bill to aid Ukraine

Republican US senators have said they are working with Democrats on legislation to aid Ukraine.

The senators did not say when a unified bill could come to the floor for a vote in the Senate, which has a packed schedule.

Senator Kevin Cramer, who earlier this week took part in a bipartisan visit of US Senators to Ukraine, said the bill should cut off Russia’s access to the SWIFT global electronic payment system.

Russian legislators propose recognising east Ukraine as independent

Russian legislators have called on parliament to appeal to President Vladimir Putin to recognise two pro-Russian breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as independent states.

In a draft parliamentary resolution, 11 legislators – including Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov – said Russia needed to officially recognise the two regions as independent to safeguard their residents from external threats.

The draft resolution said: “The Russian State Duma turns to you, Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin], with a request to consider the recognition by the Russian Federation of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic as self-sufficient, sovereign and independent states.”

US threatens Moscow with sanctions

Blinken has once again threatened Moscow with “massive consequences” if the Russian side engages in further aggression against Ukraine.

“I hope it doesn’t, but should it come to that, we will act strongly in a coordinated manner to impose those consequences on Russia,” Blinken said in Kyiv after meeting Zelenskyy and his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba.

The sanctions would have financial, economic and export control components, Blinken added.

Correspondent: Locals in Kyiv blase about potential military escalation

Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel Hamid reporting from Kyiv said the locals she spoke to were “quite blase about the idea that a military escalation could happen anytime soon”.

“They think there is a lot of talk at the moment, a lot of fearmongering, but you don’t get the idea that there’s panic among people – certainly a bit of worry,” Abdel Hamid said.

“You don’t get this sense that there is mass panic about it. There’s no run to the supermarkets, people are going about their lives. Also, people do feel confident that this time the Ukrainian ministry is much stronger, it has received much training, it has received much military hardware; it is in a better position than it was in 2014.”

Germany in talks with Russia on Ukraine: Chancellor Scholz

Germany has been involved in “intensive talks” with Russia on the Ukraine issue since the beginning of January, the German chancellor has said in a virtual address to the World Economic Forum.

“After years of rising tensions, silence is not a reasonable option,” he said, stressing that Ukraine’s borders “must not be moved by force”.

Despite Germany’s continuous engagement with Russia, he said, it is “still too early to tell whether we have de-escalated a situation Russia created by concentrating 100,000 troops along the Ukrainian border”.

Canada making clear to Russia that more Ukraine moves unacceptable: PM

Canada is working with international partners to make very clear to Russia that any further moves against Ukraine are “absolutely unacceptable”, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said.

“We are standing there with diplomatic responses, with sanctions, with a full press on the international stage to ensure that Russia respects the people of Ukraine, respects their choice to choose their governments,” he told a briefing.

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes part in a news conference sitting behind a table with Canadian flags seen in the background
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada is working with international partners to make it very clear to Russia that any moves against Ukraine are unacceptable [Blair Gable/Reuters]

Blinken: Moscow sought to weaken Ukraine’s democratic institutions

Blinken has again severely reproached Russia for the conflict with Ukraine after talks with  Zelenskyy in Kyiv.

“Moscow has systematically sought to weaken Ukraine’s democratic institutions, as well as to divide Ukrainian society using everything from election interference to disinformation to cyberattacks,” Blinken said after the meeting, which also included his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba.

Podcast: Waiting for war in Ukraine while caught in the fighting

A build-up of troops on the border of Ukraine and Russia is worrying the world. The fear is war, but parts of Ukraine are already caught in the crossfire. Pro-Russia separatists are battling Ukrainian soldiers and have been for almost eight years.

The Take podcast goes to Donbas, eastern Ukraine with Al Jazeera correspondent Charles Stratford to hear what people there are living through and their thoughts on what may happen in the days ahead.

Macron calls for less reliance on Russia energy

French President Emmanuel Macron has called on the European Union to gradually cut oil and gas imports from Russia to boost Brussels’s credibility amid concerns that Russian President Vladimir Putin is planning an invasion of Ukraine.

Macron told members of the European Parliament that the EU must move away from what he described as a “vulnerable position” if it wants to carry more weight on the diplomatic stage.

Addressing legislators’ concerns over the inaction of the European Council, Macron said Europe had to “build the foundations of our sovereignty which means more independence from Russia”.

‘Ukraine is nothing but an extra on the main stage’

Al Jazeera’s Mansur Mirovalev has spoken to analysts about the situation, one of whom says the US should work to rein in Ukrainian political elites who reject a pragmatic and moderate approach to de-escalation.

“Blinken can change a lot. He can actually formulate an ultimatum for Zelenskyy, and not just Zelenskyy but those who play in politics here, by making them face a choice – you start a de-escalation, as in you stop purging those who stand for restoring normal ties with Russia and with [the separatist-controlled region of] Donbas,” said Mikhail Pogrebinsky, head of the Kyiv Center for Political Research and Conflictology.

Pogrebinsky added that the US may also be ready to offer concessions on Ukraine given the general geopolitical threat Russia poses for Washington.

“Everyone wants to meet with Lavrov, with Putin, to find a way to save face, to yield, but save face, and Ukraine is nothing but an extra on the main stage,” he said.

Another Kyiv-based analyst, Aleksey Kushch, suggested that Blinken’s visit would not be helpful for Ukraine because Washington needs Russia as an ally in its spiralling confrontation with Beijing, and that would guide the US decision-making in the situation.

“America’s foremost enemy is China, not Russia,” he said.

Blinken vows ‘relentless’ diplomacy to avert Russian attack

The US Secretary of State says Washington will pursue diplomacy as long as it can to defuse the crisis.

Blinken promised “relentless diplomatic efforts to prevent renewed aggression and to promote dialogue and peace” during his visit to Kyiv, but added Russia’s build-up of tens of thousands of troops near the Ukrainian border was taking place with “no provocation, [and] no reason”.

‘Everything depends on the West’

Al Jazeera’s Mansur Mirovalev spoke to several Ukrainians in Kyiv to gauge their thoughts on the crisis.

Vladislav Shvets, who owns a small grocery business, said “everything depends on the West” in the situation and called for a collective response from the US and its allies to Russia.

“Nothing depends on us,” he added. “But [Russian President] Vladimir Putin is powerless against the whole world.”

Vladislav Shvets
Shvets said ‘everything depends on the West’ in the current crisis [Mansur Mirovalev/Al Jazeera]

Yuri Kirilyuk, who owns an advertising agency, compared the Russian leader to Nazi Germany’s Adolf Hitler, who annexed swaths of European territory in the build-up to World War II.

“Putin’s appetite is growing like that of Hitler,” he said. “He [Putin] feels a temptation [to invade]. But there is a threat of sanctions.”

Yuri Kirilyuk
Kirilyuk compared Russia’s Putin to Adolf Hitler [Mansur Mirovalev/Al Jazeera]

Others were more sceptical, however, suggesting talk of a possibly imminent Russian invasion was overblown and that Moscow’s movement of troops to near the Ukrainian border was little more than a Kremlin scare tactic.

“This is all done so that the governments [of Ukraine and Russia] could negotiate something between themselves. There is no direct threat of an invasion,” said Oleg Yeremenko, a construction manager.

Oleg Yeremenko
Yeremenko dismissed talk of a possible Russian invasion as overblown [Mansur Mirovalev/Al Jazeera]

Olena Savchuk, a homemaker, agreed. She said Putin would not dare attack Ukraine due to the threat of sanctions lingering over Moscow.

“His clique won’t let him attack us,” Savchuk said.

US will continue diplomatic efforts, Blinken says

Blinken says the US will continue relentless diplomatic efforts to prevent Russian aggression in Ukraine after his meeting with Zelenskyy, but will not present a formal response to Moscow’s security demands this week.

Addressing reporters during a news conference with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, the US Secretary of State said Moscow and Washington needed to “see where we are and whether there remain opportunities” during Friday’s scheduled talks with Lavrov.

Russian diplomat demands NATO expansion ban

A top Russian diplomat has warned that Moscow will accept nothing less than “watertight” US guarantees that NATO will not expand to include Ukraine as a member.

Asked during a panel meeting at the Valdai Discussion Club in Moscow if Russia could accept a moratorium on NATO’s expansion eastwards, an idea circulated by some political experts, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov answered with a firm “no”.

“For us, the matter of priority is achievement of watertight, bulletproof, legally binding guarantees” that Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations will not join the alliance, he said.

Ukraine, NATO leaders discuss summit in June

Ukraine’s Zelenskyy has spoken to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg by telephone and “exchanged information and views on the diplomatic efforts needed for stability in Europe” with him.

“Discussed preparations for the NATO Summit in June and Ukraine’s possible participation in it. The open door policy remains unchanged!,” Zelenskyy said on Twitter.

NATO’s “open door” means that potential membership is open to any European country in a position to undertake the commitments and obligations that come with joining the military alliance.

EU should seek political solution: Macron

The EU must hold “frank dialogue” with Russia and seek a political solution, French President Emmanuel Macron tells the European Parliament.

Addressing lawmakers at the start of France’s six-month presidency of the EU, Macron said member states should define among themselves a “new stability and security order” that they would then discuss with Moscow. “The security of our continent is indivisible,” he said.

A proponent of the EU having its own “strategic autonomy” in the field of defence, Macron added that the bloc must bring itself to a position to make sure “it can be respected”, including by making sure it is not too dependent on Russia for its energy supplies.

How real is Russia’s threat to deploy missiles to Latin America?

Dismissed by some as propaganda “nonsense”, Moscow’s recent warning has evoked memories of the Cuban missile crisis. Read more here.

Blinken warns of ‘unprecedented threat’ to Ukraine

The US Secretary of State says Ukraine is facing an “unprecedented threat” in light of Russia’s build-up of some 100,000 troops near the shared border.

Speaking during his meeting with Zelenskyy, Blinken reemphasised a strong response from the US and its allies – expected to take the form of sweeping sanctions – if Russia attacks.

However, he added Washington’s “clear preference” was to find a “diplomatic resolution” to the situation. “It’s the most responsible thing that any of us can do,” Blinken said.

Turkey’s Erdogan to visit Ukraine ‘within weeks’

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan will visit Ukraine “within a few weeks” in a bid to help defuse the crisis, state media quotes his spokesman as saying.

Ibrahim Kalin, who is also Erdogan’s foreign policy adviser, said Ankara did not want to see a military conflict between Ukraine and Russia and was fully committed to the former’s territorial integrity, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency.

Erdogan was in contact with both Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin on the matter, his spokesman added. In November, he had said Ankara was ready to mediate the crisis, an offer Kyiv welcomed but Moscow dismissed.

Zelenskyy thanks US for help during ‘difficult times’

Zelenskyy has thanked Washington for its support.

“I would like to thank you personally, and [US] President Biden and the US administration for your support, for military assistance to Ukraine, for increasing this assistance,” the Ukrainian president told Blinken.

Blinken had earlier confirmed $200m in security aid for Kyiv.

Ukraine ready for further cyberattacks, official says

A Ukrainian cybersecurity official says Kyiv is ready for any further cyberattacks following a recent incident involving government websites.

About 70 websites belonging to national and regional government bodies were targeted in a January 14 attack but no critical infrastructure was affected, and no personal data was accessed, according to Victor Zhora, deputy chair of the State Service of Special Communication and Information Protection.

Investigations by Ukraine’s Security Service indicate hacker groups linked to Moscow were involved. Zhora suggested the attack may be the first wave of a bigger offensive.

Russia’s wants Ukraine back in its ‘sphere of influence’: Analyst

Serhii Shapovalov, an analyst at the Kyiv-based Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation think-tank, says Russia’s “end goal” is to “bring Ukraine back into its sphere of influence”.

“After aggression in 2014 [when Russia annexed Crimea], Russia can no longer do this with soft power and that is why the Kremlin is constantly threatening Ukraine with a new war,” Shapovalov told Al Jazeera from the Ukrainian capital.

“They are threatening war in such a way that they can force the West to make concessions, or Russia can conduct a military invasion and achieve its goal in this way, and that is why Ukraine … can only now prepare to defend itself.”

Russia rejects US ‘rhetoric’ on invasion

Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari, reporting from Moscow, says the Kremlin is still waiting for an official response from the US government about the security guarantees it wants to be met, including that Ukraine will not be permitted to join NATO.

Meanwhile, Russian officials have insisted that the “rhetoric coming from Washington is simply not true and that Russia has no intention of invading Ukraine,” Jabbari said, but also emphasised that Moscow is free to deploy its forces wherever it considers it necessary on its own territory.

Moscow says weapons deliveries, NATO flights raising tension

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov says tension around Ukraine is increasing as a result of weapons deliveries to its neighbour, military manoeuvres and NATO aircraft flights.

Peskov added that Moscow hoped to receive written answers to its proposals for sweeping security guarantees in the coming days.

‘How will this end? Nobody can say’

On the streets of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, where Russia is accused of fomenting a separatist war, residents say they hope an all-out conflict can be avoided.

“Talks are good, at least it’s not war,” Alexei Bokarev, a 77-year-old retired miner, told the AFP news agency.

“The guns are quiet and negotiations are going on, it means that there is some kind of a search for a solution. How will this end? Nobody can say.”

Russia could attack Ukraine on ‘very short notice’: Blinken

Russia’s troop build-up near Ukraine’s borders means Putin can order an attack on Ukraine at very short notice, Blinken tells diplomats at the US Embassy in Kyiv.

“We know that there are plans in place to increase that [Russian] 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,” he said.

“I strongly, strongly hope that we can keep this on a diplomatic and peaceful path, but ultimately, that’s going to be … Putin’s decision.”

Washington: Russia could attack ‘at any point’

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki says the crisis has reached a stage where “Russia could at any point launch an attack in Ukraine”.

“What Secretary (of State) Blinken is going to go do is highlight very clearly there is a diplomatic path forward,” Psaki told reporters at a regular press briefing, citing his trip to Europe.

She accused Putin of creating the crisis by massing 100,000 troops along Ukraine’s borders and said it was up to him to decide whether to invade and then “suffer severe economic consequences”.

Lithuania: Russian troops in Belarus ‘destabilising factor’

Russian troops arriving in Belarus – for what Moscow and Minsk claim will be joint military exercises – are further “destabilising” the region’s security situation, NATO member Lithuania’s defence minister says.

“In the current situation, we consider the entry of Russian military forces into Belarus not only as a destabilising factor of the security situation, but also as an even greater direct threat to Lithuania,” Arvydas Anusauskas wrote on Facebook.

Blinken lands in Kyiv

The US secretary of state lands at the Boryspil International Airport in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, as he begins his diplomatic trip in Europe.

Blinken was greeted by Ukrainian officials, including Deputy Foreign Minister Dmytro Senik, on an icy moonlit tarmac as he disembarked. He will later meet with Zelenskyy.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies