U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday he had canceled a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov planned for Thursday after Moscow's recognition of two separatist regions in Ukraine as independent entities.
Blinken sent Lavrov a letter on Tuesday informing him he would no longer meet him, Blinken told reporters after a meeting with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in Washington.
The United States and its allies would continue to escalate sanctions if Russia further escalates its aggression toward Ukraine, he said.
On Monday, Putin ordered a "peacekeeping operation" in Ukraine's Luhansk and Donetsk regions after recognizing the separatist regions' independence, paving the way to provide them more military support – a direct challenge to the West that will fuel fears that Russia could imminently invade Ukraine.
The carefully staged move announced in the Kremlin could lead to new sanctions on Russia and flies in the face of European efforts for a diplomatic solution to the escalating crisis, which has brought East-West relations to a new low and jeopardized trade. Britain’s prime minister called it a “breach of international law.”
It came amid a spike in skirmishes in the eastern regions that Western powers believe Russia could use as a pretext for an attack on the western-looking democracy that has defied Moscow’s attempts to pull it back into its orbit.
In a far-reaching, pre-recorded speech, Putin justified his decision blaming NATO for the current crisis and calling the United States-led alliance an existential threat to Russia. Sweeping through more than a century of history, he painted today's Ukraine as a modern construct that is inextricably linked to Russia. He charged that Ukraine had inherited Russia's historic lands and the West used the Soviet collapse to contain Russia.