The US Secretary of State has poured cold water in hopes of a diplomatic settlement to the war in Ukraine, saying there were no signs that Vladimir Putin was “willing to” stop Russia’s invasion of his neighbor.
Antony Blinken downplayed expectations that the warring countries could reach an agreement that would see Russia withdraw its troops from Ukraine, while vowing that Washington would investigate “war crimes” carried out by the Russian military.
“From where I sit, diplomacy clearly requires both sides to make good faith efforts to de-escalate,” Blinken said during a press conference at the State Department in Washington on Thursday.
“The actions we see Russia take every day, pretty much every minute of every day, are in stark contrast to any serious diplomatic effort to end the war,” he added.
In a grim assessment of Russia’s intentions a month after the conflict, Blinken explained what he thought might be Putin’s next steps, including the use of chemical weapons, the deployment of pro-Russian mercenaries and the kidnapping of local officials. officials to be replaced by pro-Russian puppet leaders.
“We have a strong idea of what Russia might do next,” Blinken said, pointing out that the US had been right in their assessment that Putin was planning to invade. “We believe Moscow is setting the stage to use a chemical weapon and then falsely blaming Ukraine for justifying the escalation of its attacks.”
He also attacked Moscow over increasingly horrific attacks on civilian targets in the country, including a hospital, schools and a theater in the port city of Mariupol that housed many families.
Blinken’s comments came a day after US President Joe Biden first labeled Putin a “war criminal.”
“Intentionally targeting civilians is a war crime. After all the devastation in recent weeks, I find it difficult to conclude that the Russians are doing differently,” said Blinken.
He added: “Our experts are documenting and evaluating possible war crimes committed in Ukraine. We will ensure that our findings help international efforts to investigate war crimes and hold those responsible to account.”
Blinken spoke a day after Biden announced a new package of military aid to Ukraine, including anti-aircraft systems, anti-tank weapons and armed drones to help the country fend off the Russian attack.
Biden plans to travel to Brussels late next week to further coordinate the West’s response to the war, after warning it could be a “long and difficult battle”.
On Friday, Biden will speak with Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, about the war in Ukraine, after concerns in Washington have mounted that Beijing is siding with Moscow in the conflict.
“We believe that China, in particular, has a responsibility to use its influence over President Putin and defend the international rules and principles it claims to support,” Blinken said.
“Instead, it appears that China is moving in the opposite direction by refusing to condemn this aggression, while trying to portray itself as a neutral referee. And we are concerned that they are considering helping Russia directly with military equipment for use in Ukraine.”
China’s foreign ministry said an official met on Thursday with Andrew Denisov, Russia’s ambassador to Beijing, to discuss “bilateral cooperation on counter-terrorism and security”.
Blinken added that in his talk with Xi, Biden would “make it clear that China will bear responsibility for all actions it takes to support Russian aggression, and we will not hesitate to impose charges.”
Blinken’s words came after Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky stepped up pressure on the west to further bolster military support for the country and imposed new sanctions on Russia in response to the invasion.
After addressing members of the US Congress on Wednesday, Zelensky spoke to German lawmakers on Thursday, expressing an agonizing attack on his leaders for placing good economic relations with Putin above Europe’s security.
“We have seen how much ties your companies have with Russia with a country that you and other countries only use to finance its war,” Zelensky said in a virtual speech in the Bundestag.
Additional reporting by William Langley in Hong Kong
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