Blinken and Western allies reaffirm unity at Munich Security Conference

At a summit marked by the crisis in Ukraine and the absence of Russian representation, the US secretary of state will meet with European and Western leaders to close ranks on the conflict with Moscow

PHOTO/REUTERS  -   US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken

Diplomatic efforts to halt the crisis in Eastern Europe continue unabated. Today, against the German backdrop of Munich. There, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock participated in the opening panel of the Munich Security Conference - an annual gathering of top leaders and security experts for more than 50 years. 

In contrast to the last face-to-face summit of the Conference - in 2019 - where Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reproached Western allies for the presence of hundreds of thousands of US military units on the Ukrainian border, this year the Kremlin has refrained from sending representatives for the first time in decades. Moscow seems to consider that it has nothing to discuss with the West at what is considered one of the world's most important independent security forums, and neither Lavrov nor Putin attended the Munich meeting. 

PHOTO - Munich Security Conference 2020

During the conversation between Blinken and Baerbock, which was moderated by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, the two representatives reaffirmed their rapport and warned Moscow of "the grave consequences" of a violation of Ukraine's territorial sovereignty. 

"What we are seeing in the last 24, 48 hours is part of a scenario of creating false provocations in order to respond and commit a new aggression against Ukraine," Blinken warned in relation to the situation on the ground over the last few hours. A situation that could precipitate into conflict in the event of any incident. Along these lines, the US Secretary of State said he did not rule out the possibility of the Kremlin "taking another path". 

For her part, German minister Annalena Baerbock praised the transatlantic relations between the two powers, referring to all the allied countries as "united in diversity". Similarly, given that the issue of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and energy security became a bone of contention between Washington and Berlin a few weeks ago, Baerbock said that "everything is on the table, including Nord Stream 2". Should Moscow decide to attack Ukraine, "unprecedented" economic sanctions would be imposed on the Russian state. 

PHOTO/FILE - Kamala Harris, Vice President of the United States of America in the Biden Administration

In addition to Antony Blinken, the Washington administration will also be represented by US Vice President Kamala Harris during the three-day Munich Security Conference. Harris, whose agenda includes meetings with Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenski, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, hopes to highlight the "remarkable unity" of NATO countries in her opening speech on Saturday. 

"Of course, we continue to support diplomacy in terms of the dialogue and discussions that we've had with Russia, but we are also committed to taking corrective action to ensure that there are serious consequences in terms of the sanctions that we've discussed," the US vice president said after her meeting with Stoltenberg. 

REUTERS/GLEB GARANICH - File photo. A pro-Russian gunman stands guard at a barricade near the state security service building in Slaviansk, Ukraine April 28, 2014. The sticker on the rifle reads: 'Republic of Donetsk'

However, developments on the Ukrainian border do not seem to be waiting for negotiations to reach a consensus between Moscow and Western allies. Although ceasefire violations in the separatist Donbas region have been a constant since the dawn of the conflict in 2014, violent activity has multiplied in recent hours. Accusations of attacks and shelling between the two sides have further increased the fragile and tense calm on the border. 

In the face of this situation - described by the US authorities as a "provocation" and a Russian "pretext" for attacking the country - separatists in Lugansk and Donetsk have ordered the evacuation of civilians to Russia. According to the head of the rebel government in Donetsk, Denis Pushlin, women, children and the elderly will be the first to be moved to facilities prepared by the Kremlin. 

AFP/FABRICE COFFRINI - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the United Nations Conference on Disarmament on 25 February 2020 in Geneva

However, on the path of diplomatic negotiations, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken yesterday announced a proposal to meet with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in the course of next week. In an interview with Russian broadcaster RT, the Moscow official announced his intention to set a date for this new diplomatic session. 

"The Russians have responded with proposed dates for the end of next week, which we accept, provided there is no further Russian invasion of Ukraine. If they invade Ukraine in the next few days, it will be clear that they have never taken diplomacy seriously," State Department spokesman Ned Price said. 

"We agreed that when Russia sends its document on security guarantees, and the US government is familiar with our view of the situation, we would be ready to meet," Lavrov said. With these remarks, the minister was referring to his January demands to Washington and NATO to halt the Alliance's expansion in Eastern Europe and the subsequent negative response from the US authorities.