United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the U.S. is considering Ukraine’s request for additional military assistance to help deter Kremlin aggression following a massive buildup of Russian forces near the Ukrainian border and in occupied Crimea.
His statement came during an interview with Radio Free Europe, press service of the U.S. Department of State reported.
Kyiv has requested U.S. air defense systems and anti-sniper technology, along with a possible deployment of Patriot missiles in Ukraine.
U.S. is being extremely vigilant
Blinken expressed the need to remain "extremely vigilant" against the possibility of reckless actions, aggression from Russia, directed at Ukraine.
"Now, we’ve seen some of the forces pull back, but many still remain. We’ve seen some heavy equipment pulled back, but a lot also remains. And Russia has the capacity, on pretty short notice, to take further aggressive actions. So we are being very vigilant about that, watching it very carefully, and also making sure that we’re helping Ukraine have the means to defend itself, defend its sovereignty, defend its territory," he said.
U.S. considering providing military equipment
The United States has provided nearly $5 billion in financial, humanitarian, and military aid -- including lethal, anti-tank weapons -- to Ukraine since 2014, when Russia forcibly annexed Crimea and backed separatists in two of its eastern provinces, sparking a war that has killed more than 13,000.
When asked if the U.S. would consider Ukraine's request on air defense system and anti-sniper attacks and deployment of Patriot missiles by the U.S. in Ukraine, Blinken said that his country would look at "any and every request."
"Pentagon is the main partner for Ukraine. And it is, as we speak, looking at what additional assistance, beyond the very significant assistance that we’ve already provided, including equipment, would be helpful to Ukraine right now. That’s a very active consideration," the official said.
Excluding Russia from SWIFT
Commenting on the possible exclusion of Russian banks from the SWIFT messaging system to deter Kremlin aggression, the Secretary of State said that the U.S: "will consider every reasonable option."
The top U.S. diplomat reiterated the Biden administration’s message that the United States is not seeking an escalation with Russia.
"We would prefer a more stable, predictable relationship with Russia and, indeed, President Biden has made that clear to President Putin," he told.
However, he said the United States does not accept the concept of "spheres of influence" and will respond to any Kremlin aggression that threatens Washington’s interests or those of its partners.
"If Russia takes, continues to take reckless or aggressive actions, whether it’s with regard to Ukraine or anywhere else where our interests or our partners are being challenged, we will respond, not for purposes of escalating, not for purposes of seeking a conflict, but because these kinds of actions cannot go unanswered. They cannot happen with impunity. And so I think it’s very clear that there would be consequences," the diplomat added.
"Red lines" of Putin's Russia
When asked about the "red lines" of Russia, which Putin warned the west from crossing, Antony Blinken emphasised that "another country does not have the right to tell a country what its policy should be."
"We don’t accept the principle of spheres of influence. Another country cannot simply change the borders of its democratic neighbor by force," he said.
He added that in terms of Russian aggression, the rights of Ukrainian citizens and their sovereignty matters.
"First and most important, what’s at stake are the rights of the Ukrainian people and their sovereignty, the integrity of their territory, their democracy," Blinken said.
Approximately 100 Ukrainian citizens are now in jail in Russia as political prisoners - mostly Crimeans. There was no prisoner exchange between Ukraine and Russia since last spring.
Assessing the possibility of influencing the prisoner exchange between the two states by the United States, Blinken told that the U.S. would seize every opportunity to do so.
"As a general matter, we are very concerned about the practice that some governments engage in of arbitrarily detaining the citizens of other countries, holding them hostage, or having political prisoners. At the same time, if we have opportunities to engage another government on people that it’s holding illegally, we will certainly do that. So if there’s an opportunity, we’ll take it."
The top diplomat also stressed that it is something that the U.S. is working with many other countries around the world to take a stronger stand against the matter.