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In Kyiv, Secretary Blinken vowed to stand with Ukraine as Russia tensions continue

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

President Biden says he believes Vladimir Putin will make some move on Ukraine but warned that Putin, in his words, quote, "has never seen sanctions like the ones I will impose if Russia does invade." The president acknowledged there are differences among NATO's allies on how to respond to a Russian incursion, depending on what exactly the incursion is.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Kyiv today, vowing to stand with Ukraine. The U.S. is promising the country financial and military aid, even as it urges Russia to take a diplomatic path. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports from Kyiv.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Secretary Blinken says the world is watching what Russia does in Ukraine.

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ANTONY BLINKEN: When Russia uses its strength to act with impunity against another sovereign nation, it makes other countries think that they too can violate the rules of international peace and security and put their narrow interests ahead of the shared interests of the international community.

KELEMEN: Despite intensive diplomacy aimed at easing tensions, Russia has kept tens of thousands of troops close to Ukraine and moved more into Belarus over the weekend. Blinken warns that this gives Russian President Vladimir Putin the capacity to take further aggressive action on short order, and he says this will only bring U.S. and other NATO assets closer to Russia, which is precisely what Putin says he doesn't want.

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BLINKEN: We have given more security assistance to Ukraine in the last year than at any point since 2014. And as I say, we're doing that on a sustained basis. Should Russia carry through with any aggressive intent and renew its aggression and invade Ukraine, we'll provide additional material.

KELEMEN: A British cargo plane that just delivered weapons was still on the tarmac when Blinken arrived. That's welcome news to Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, who's sounding a confident note.

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DMYTRO KULEBA: (Non-English language spoken).

KELEMEN: "We have a strong military," he says, "a strong diplomatic strategy and strong partners." But he wants to make sure that the U.S. isn't cutting any deals with Russia without Ukraine's involvement. Secretary Blinken will be meeting his Russian counterpart Friday in Geneva.

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KULEBA: (Non-English language spoken).

KELEMEN: "I want to wish Tony good luck," Kuleba said, pointing out that Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov refuses to meet with him. He's hoping the U.S. can convince Russia to be more constructive and less aggressive. Russia wants written guarantees that Ukraine will never become part of NATO and is making other demands of the Western alliance. Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov sounded impatient today.

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SERGEI RYABKOV: (Non-English language spoken).

KELEMEN: "We haven't yet received written responses to our ideas from NATO and the U.S.," he says, calling the matter urgent. He says Russia won't wait forever. Blinken isn't raising expectations about his meeting in Geneva.

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BLINKEN: I won't be presenting a paper at that time to Foreign Minister Lavrov. We need to see where we are and see if there remain opportunities to pursue the diplomacy and pursue the dialogue, which, again, as I said, is by far the preferable course.

KELEMEN: Secretary Blinken travels next to Berlin to meet his German, British and French counterparts to make sure they're on the same page and ready to punish Russia with more sanctions if Russia tries to further destabilize Ukraine. Aside from military action, Ukraine fears that Russia is trying to scare off investors and hurt the Ukrainian economy. Secretary Blinken says he's keeping a close watch on that, even as he urges Ukraine to continue on a path of reforms to make the country more resilient.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Kyiv.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.