US, Russian envoys to meet in Switzerland

Simon Lewis and Susan HeaveyReuters
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is set to meet US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Camera IconRussian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is set to meet US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Credit: EPA

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will hold talks in Switzerland on Friday to discuss Ukraine, officials say.

Blinken will travel amid concerns voiced by Ukraine and its allies over the tens of thousands of Russian troops amassed in and near Ukraine.

"The United States does not want conflict. We want peace," a senior US State Department official said on Tuesday.

"(Russian) President (Vladimir) Putin has it in his power to take steps to de-escalate this crisis so the United States and Russia can pursue a relationship that is not based on hostility or crisis," the official told reporters.

Russia denies planning a new military offensive.

Blinken will meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Wednesday.

Then in Berlin he will meet German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and later the Transatlantic Quad, referring to a format that involves the United States, United Kingdom, France and Germany.

Blinken will "discuss recent diplomatic engagements with Russia and joint efforts to deter further Russian aggression against Ukraine, including allies' and partners' readiness to impose massive consequences and severe economic costs on Russia," the US State Department said in a statement.

Blinken will meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva on Friday to seek a diplomatic off-ramp, the senior official said.

Blinken spoke with Lavrov on Tuesday and urged de-escalation, the State Department said in a separate statement.

The senior official said the two decided in the call that it would be useful to meet in person.

"We've been very clear, meaningful progress on the diplomatic track can only happen in an environment of de-escalation. But we've seen the exact opposite from Russia," the US official said.

"We are now at a stage where Russia could at any point launch an attack on Ukraine."

Lavrov separately said Russia would welcome US diplomatic efforts and reiterated Russian accusations that Ukraine was "sabotaging" agreements aimed at ending the conflict between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Biden has warned of severe economic consequences for Moscow officials if Russia invades its neighbour.

Russia, which invaded Ukraine in 2014, has denied any plans for a fresh attack but has made several demands and said it could take unspecified military action unless the NATO military alliance agrees to them.

Germany's Baerbock, in Moscow for talks with her counterpart, on Tuesday said her country was ready to pay a high economic price to defend its fundamental values in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Kyiv has sought weapons from allies to shore up its defence.

On Monday, the UK said it had begun supplying Ukraine with anti-tank weapons to help it defend itself.

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