It's a week of heavy meetings for Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who on Wednesday met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky ahead of a face-to-face with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday. In Kyiv, Blinken offered a message of support in the face of a buildup of Russian troops at the border, but not necessarily one of optimism, saying it's possible Russia could attack Ukraine "on very short notice," reports the AP. He confirmed the US would be providing $200 million in defensive military aid, a sum that was announced in late December. The latest:
- One key quote from Blinken: "As we meet today, Russia has ratcheted up its threats and amassed nearly 100,000 forces on Ukraine's border, which it could double on relatively short order," he said, per CNN. CNN separately cites a Ukrainian intelligence report that puts the number of Russian troops near the border at 127,000 when air and sea personnel are factored in. The report asserted that Russia's aim is to try "to split and weaken the European Union and NATO."
- The full slate of meetings: Blinken will be in Berlin Thursday for talks with German and various European allies before meeting Lavrov in Geneva on Friday. How the AP puts it: "That meeting is aimed at testing Russia's willingness to resolve the crisis diplomatically." The New York Times says US officials have set expectations low, "downplay[ing] hopes for any breakthrough at the meeting, which they have described as an opportunity to test whether Moscow is serious about negotiations."
- A sticking point: Lavrov has emphasized that Russia wants the US to respond in writing to Moscow's ask: that NATO never admit Ukraine as a member or place its forces and weapons there. Blinken says he won't be bringing a written response to the meeting.
- One analyst's take: Reuters speaks with foreign policy analyst Vladimir Frolov, himself a former Russian diplomat, and his prediction was a pessimistic one: "The Lavrov-Blinken meet is probably the last stop before the train wreck. But hopes are dim, the positions are incompatible. I think barring a US surrender and their delivering Ukraine to Russia, some kind of a military option is all but inevitable now."
- On the ground: NPR's Eleanor Beardsley is in Ukraine and shares what she's been seeing in and around Kyiv: "If you go outside of town a little bit, you can find regular Ukrainian citizens doing military training to prepare to defend their city from a possible invasion. Yesterday, I went to one of these trainings, which are held on the outskirts in a forest in a kind of decrepit former industrial site. About 60 men and women are learning urban and guerrilla fighting tactics, and a good number of the participants were in their 40s and even 50s." (Read her full report.)