By Jennifer Hansler, Kylie Atwood and Veronica Stracqualursi, CNN
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have agreed to meet in Geneva on Friday as the Russian threat toward Ukraine continues to loom, a senior State Department official confirmed Tuesday.
The tete-a-tete with Lavrov will follow the top US diplomat’s travel this week to Ukraine and Germany to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his foreign counterparts.
This will be the first high-level meeting between Russia and the United States since the diplomatic engagements last week, which failed to deliver breakthroughs on the situation at Ukraine’s border where Russia has amassed tens of thousands of troops.
The two foreign ministers spoke by phone on Tuesday, and the senior US official said it was “in the context of that conversation” that they agreed to meet in person.
The fact that Blinken and Lavrov will meet on Friday “suggests that perhaps diplomacy is not dead,” the official said.
The official said the two sides wanted to see if there are opportunities for “common ground.”
During Tuesday’s call, Blinken and Lavrov spoke about last week’s diplomatic engagements and “stressed the importance of continuing a diplomatic path to de-escalate tensions surrounding the deeply troubling Russian military build-up in and near Ukraine,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said Tuesday in a readout of the call.
In Kyiv, Blinken will meet with Zelensky and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba “to reinforce the United States’ commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Price also announced Tuesday.
In Berlin, 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.”
Blinken will meet with German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, followed by a meeting with the Transatlantic Quad, which also includes the UK and France, according to Price.
Blinken’s visit follows last week’s diplomatic talks between the West and Russian officials that ended without a commitment from Russia that it would deescalate and pull back the tens of thousands of troops it amassed on the Ukrainian border, leading a senior US official to warn that the “drumbeat of war was sounding loud.”
Following last week’s diplomatic engagements, a large rift remained between Washington and Moscow over Russia’s key demands, which the US and its NATO allies have deemed as non-starters.
Blinken is “150% committed to seeing if there is a diplomatic offramp here” and that is the impetus for this engagement, the senior State Department official said. It is still too early to tell if Russia is prepared to negotiate in good faith, the official added.
It remains unclear if the US will respond to Russia’s proposal last week with a written response, which Russia has demanded. When asked about that the official only said that the US remains prepared to engage with Russia on “on security issues and meaningful dialogue.”
Meanwhile, the US has been assuring Ukraine of its commitment to the country amid new warning signs and US intelligence that suggest Russia is preparing a Ukraine invasion.
The US has information indicating Russia has prepositioned a group of operatives to conduct a false-flag operation in eastern Ukraine in an attempt to create a pretext for an invasion, which CNN first reported and the White House later confirmed. These operatives are “trained in urban warfare and in using explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against Russia’s own proxy forces,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday.
Russia has also begun evacuating its embassy in the Ukrainian capital, which could potentially be preparation for a looming conflict, The New York Times reported. Russia has denied the report and said the embassy is operating as usual.
Blinken will be the latest US official to visit with Zelensky, after CIA Director Bill Burns met with the Ukrainian leader last week and a delegation of US senators met with Zelensky on Monday.
This story has been updated.
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