Blinken says meeting with Lavrov is off after Russia moves on Ukraine



US Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled a planned meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva this week, he announced Tuesday, in the latest sign that diplomatic avenues with Russia over Ukraine are quickly closing.

"Now that we see the invasion is beginning and Russia has made clear its wholesale rejection of diplomacy, it does not make sense to go forward with that meeting at this time," Blinken said at the State Department on Tuesday. "I consulted with our allies and partners -- all agree."

Blinken's announcement comes a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized two separatist regions in Ukraine as independent and announced he would deploy "peacekeeping" forces there. US President Joe Biden and top US officials said Tuesday that Putin's moves marked the beginning of a new Russian invasion of Ukraine, and Biden announced a first tranche of sanctions in response.

Blinken said he sent a letter to Lavrov on Tuesday to inform him of the decision.

He said the US remains committed to diplomacy "if Russia is prepared to take demonstrable steps to provide the international community with any degree of confidence it's serious about deescalating and finding a diplomatic solution."

The top US diplomat had proposed the meeting with his Russian counterpart last week "to discuss the steps that we can take to resolve this crisis without conflict," Blinken said at the time, and accepted it on the condition that Russia not invade Ukraine.

Its cancellation underscores that the Biden administration no longer believes that Russia is at all serious about pursuing diplomacy. State Department spokesman Ned Price said last week, "If they do invade in the coming days, it will make clear they were never serious about diplomacy."

"We will not allow Russia to claim the pretense of diplomacy at the same time it accelerates its march down the path of conflict and war," Blinken said Tuesday.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian also announced his meeting with Lavrov that had been scheduled for Friday would no longer occur.

Blinken spoke at the State Department alongside Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, who also met with Biden and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in Washington on Tuesday.

Kuleba said Ukraine has no plans to evacuate Mariupol and Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine following Putin's orders. He said his nation has two plans: diplomacy, and, if that fails, fighting to defend itself.

"Plan A is to utilize every tool of diplomacy to deter Russia and prevent further escalation," Kuleba said "And if that fails, plan B is to fight for every inch of our land, in every city and every village -- to fight until we win, of course."

Blinken said Putin's remarks Monday had confirmed "his plan all along has been to invade Ukraine," and that Russia's issues with NATO have "never been about Ukraine and NATO per se," adding that Putin's real goal is "reconstituting the Russian empire, or short of that, a sphere of influence, or short of that, the total neutrality of countries surrounding Russia."

"President Putin's deeply disturbing speech yesterday, and his statements today, made clear to the world how he views Ukraine: not as a sovereign nation with the right to territorial integrity and independence, but rather as a creation of Russia, and therefore subordinate to Russia," Blinken said Tuesday. "This is the greatest threat to security in Europe since World War II."