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Blinken cancels meeting with Lavrov, US to supply more weapons to Ukraine

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at a meeting in Geneva in January 2022 (file photo by AP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has called off a planned meeting with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in a move that will further escalate the rising tensions over Ukraine and make an immediate diplomatic solution to the crisis become less likely.

Blinken announced the cancellation at a press conference in Washington alongside Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Tuesday, a day after Moscow recognized two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as independent republics and sent "peacekeeping" forces there.

"Now that we see the invasion is beginning and Russia has made clear its wholesale rejection of diplomacy, it does not make sense to go forward with that meeting at this time," Blinken said.

The top US diplomat said the US was still committed to diplomacy "if Moscow's approach changes," adding that he would do anything he could "to avert an even worse-case scenario, an all-out assault on all of Ukraine, including its capital."

"But we will not allow Russia to claim the pretense of diplomacy at the same time it accelerates its march down the path of conflict and war," he said.

Blinken further said that he had agreed to meet with Lavrov on the condition that Russia would not invade Ukraine. He said Washington had consulted with its allies on the decision to cancel the talks, which were scheduled to take place in Geneva on Thursday, before informing Lavrov in a letter of the cancellation.

He also denounced Russian President Vladimir Putin's speech on the recognition of eastern Ukraine's two breakaway republics as "deeply disturbing," saying it showed Putin viewed Ukraine as "subordinate to Russia."

On Monday, Putin signed a decree recognizing the breakaway Lugansk and Donetsk regions, collectively known as the Donbas, in eastern Ukraine as independent republics and instructed Russia's Defense Ministry to deploy peacekeeping troops to the two regions.

Donetsk and Lugansk regions were turned into self-proclaimed republics by its ethnic Russian residents in 2014, which triggered a violent conflict between government forces and the secessionists.

The conflict worsened following a wave of protests in Ukraine that led to the overthrow of a democratically-elected pro-Russia government, which was later replaced with a pro-West administration.

Following the announcement, US President Joe Biden called Russia's actions in Donetsk and Lugansk the "beginning of an invasion" and said Washington would impose financial penalties on Moscow. Biden said that the sanctions were an initial response to Russian actions and added his administration would impose further sanctions if Moscow engaged in a broader invasion of Ukraine. 

Meanwhile, the White House has announced that plans for a meeting between Biden and Putin are off the table for the time being.

"We're never going to completely close the door to diplomacy," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at a news briefing on Tuesday, adding, however, that "diplomacy can't succeed unless Russia changes course."

The White House had earlier announced that Biden had agreed "in principle" to meet his Russian counterpart on the condition that Moscow would not invade Ukraine, after French President Emmanuel Macron held separate phone calls with the two leaders on Sunday to broker a meeting on Europe's "security and strategic stability."

US to supply more 'defensive' weapons to Ukraine

Separately on Tuesday, Biden said he would continue to supply "defensive" weapons to Ukraine against a "Russian invasion" and deploy US troops to reinforce NATO allies in Eastern Europe.

"I have authorized additional movements of US forces and equipment, already stationed in Europe, to strengthen our Baltic allies, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania," Biden said in a televised speech at the White House, stressing that "these are totally defensive moves on our part."

The Pentagon later announced details of the move, saying the steps would bolster the now more than 90,000 US troops temporarily or permanently deployed in Europe.

"These additional personnel are being re-positioned to reassure our NATO allies, deter any potential aggression against NATO member states, and train with host-nation forces," a US senior defense official said in a statement.

Russia and the West are at odds over Ukraine. Western countries accuse Russia of preparing for an invasion of Ukraine by amassing 150,000 troops and armaments near the border with that country. Russia has rejected the claim, saying the military build-up is defensive in nature.

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