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Diplomatic Options Shrink as Blinken Cancels Lavrov Meeting

Minsk is dead, and now U.S.-Russia channels are closing too.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken pauses during a news conference.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken pauses during a news conference.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken pauses during a news conference with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba (not pictured) at the U.S. State Department in Washington on Feb. 22. Carolyn Kaster/POOL/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Western countries impose sanctions following Russia’s recognition of Donbass self-proclaimed republics, Iran deal “about to cross the finish line,” and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan travels to Moscow.

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Blinken-Lavrov Meeting Off as West Pursues Sanctions

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Western countries impose sanctions following Russia’s recognition of Donbass self-proclaimed republics, Iran deal “about to cross the finish line,” and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan travels to Moscow.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Blinken-Lavrov Meeting Off as West Pursues Sanctions

Russia’s relations with the West have not quite moved past the point of no return but are fast approaching it, as the United States and its allies imposed an array of new sanctions following Russia’s recognition of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics as independent states.

U.S. sanctions, which target two Russian banks tied to the military and place restrictions on Russia’s sovereign debt, indicate there are still harsher options available. As FP’s Amy Mackinnon and Mary Yang report, the impact of this initial step is likely to be limited.

As well as sanctions, 800 additional U.S. troops, currently in Italy, are to be redeployed to the Baltic states, joining eight F-35 fighter jets on NATO’s eastern borders.

As U.S. policy shifts to a more adversarial stance, diplomacy is taking a back seat. A prospective meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, has been canceled. “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 on Tuesday.

Germany, chided earlier this year as a laggard in the NATO alliance, sent its strongest statement yet, following through on a threat to suspend the launch of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

As the possibility of wider war becomes more likely, Romania, a NATO member state bordering Ukraine, has offered to take in more than 500,000 refugees should the need arise. It joins the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia in preparing for a possible surge in migration.

Russia’s reaction. After his angry speech on Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin has provided some clarifications—as well as his own recipe for de-escalation.

Speaking alongside Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on Tuesday, Putin outlined the steps he deems necessary to reach a satisfactory resolution: first, international recognition of Russia’s claims to Crimea and Sevastopol; second, Ukraine voluntarily dropping its plans to join NATO; and third, the “demilitarization of the modern Ukraine,” with the West agreeing to stop weapons transfers to Kyiv.

It’s not clear how seriously Western capitals will take Putin’s overture. For Ukraine, future NATO membership is already enshrined in the country’s constitution, making any declaration—even under duress—politically fraught. There’s also the question of Ukraine’s defense ties with NATO allies, particularly Turkey, which may be wary of giving up a valued drone customer.

At the same conference, Putin was at pains to emphasize that his actions regarding Ukraine were an exception among his post-Soviet neighbors. Citing the apparently swift exit of Russian troops after a brief deployment to Kazakhstan, Putin said the current situation warranted special attention: “It’s different with Ukraine, and it’s related to the fact that, unfortunately, the territory of this country is used by third countries to create threats for the Russian Federation. That’s the only reason.”

From the ground. In a dispatch from Avdiivka, in the Ukrainian province of Donetsk, Jack Losh finds a city braced for war. “Of course we’re worried,” a local baker told Losh. “I don’t watch the news—I only need to watch the situation from my window. And it’s been a lot worse lately.” 


What We’re Following Today

What does the Donbass want? A team of researchers will present the results of a January survey of residents on both sides of the territorial divide in Ukraine’s Donbass region, providing a rare look at public opinion in the conflict zone. The survey is expected to address public attitudes toward a Russian invasion, perceived loyalties, and approval ratings of political leaders. The event, hosted by the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute, goes live at 12 p.m. ET.

Iran talks. Negotiations to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal are “about to cross the finish line,” Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s frequently upbeat ambassador to the talks, said on Monday. European Union coordinator Enrique Mora said, “Key issues need to be fixed” but shared Ulyanov’s view that the end was in sight. Iranian sources have told Reuters that a deal is expected by the end of the week.


Keep an Eye On

Khan in Moscow. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan will become the first Pakistani premier to visit Russia in 23 years when he travels to Moscow today for a two-day trip. He is scheduled to meet with Putin on Thursday. Khan has played down the significance of the visit’s timing, saying he received Putin’s invitation before “the emergence of the current phase of the Ukrainian crisis.”


Q&A With FP

Join Foreign Policy’s diplomacy and national security reporter Robbie Gramer, national security and intelligence reporter Amy Mackinnon, and Defense Department and national security reporter Jack Detsch for a special (and inaugural) SitRep Q&A on Thursday, Feb. 24, from 2 to 3 p.m. EST to get all the answers you need about Russia’s movements on its border with Ukraine, China and Taiwan, or anything else to do with national security issues.

Subscribers can submit their questions in advance here, and our reporters will respond live on Thursday.


Odds and Ends

A fire that broke out on a cargo ship carrying thousands of Porsches, Lamborghinis, and Volkswagens destined for the U.S. market continues to rage a week after the unexplained blaze began. The fire on the ship—currently adrift near the Azores, an autonomous region of Portugal—after it was abandoned by its crew is expected to lead to a loss of cargo worth more than $300 million. Additional firefighting vessels are expected to arrive today, and a Portuguese team will inspect the vessel via helicopter on Thursday to assess how best to tow it to port.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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