US offers Russia ‘diplomatic way out’ of Ukraine invasion

US senators threaten ‘crushing’ sanctions as Moscow’s military build-up on its western frontier continues

A veteran of the Ukrainian National Guard conducts military exercises for civilians in Kiev. Reuters
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US diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield offered Russia a “diplomatic way out” of invading Ukraine on Sunday, as US senators discussed “crushing” sanctions on Moscow in the event of an attack.

She said Russia had an “opportunity” at UN Security Council talks on Monday to debate the crisis and step back from a military build-up in Belarus and along its border with Ukraine.

“Part of the reason we’re calling for this meeting on Monday is one more opportunity to find the diplomatic way out for the Russians,” Ms Thomas-Greenfield said on ABC’s This Week, a news show.

Still, Washington’s UN ambassador said council members would not be “distracted” by “propaganda” or “disinformation” at council talks, and that Russia’s deployment along its western border spoke volumes.

“You don’t amass 100,000 troops if you don’t have intentions to use them,” she said.

Russia’s deputy UN ambassador, Dmitry Polyanskiy, has already written off Monday’s meeting as a “PR stunt”. Any action by the council was unlikely, because permanent members Russia and US can both veto outcomes.

Top US Senate leaders said they were close to reaching cross-party agreement on a sanctions bill to “crush” Russia’s economy if it invades Ukraine again after annexing Crimea in 2014.

Senator Bob Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said it was crucial that the US sends a clear message to Russian President Vladimir Putin that any aggression was unacceptable.

“We cannot have a Munich moment again,” Mr Menendez told CNN, in reference to the appeasement of Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

“Putin will not stop with Ukraine.”

The US and its allies seek to step up military and diplomatic pressure on Russia after the Kremlin massed about 100,000 troops near Ukraine and scheduled military exercises next month in Belarus, which also borders Ukraine.

Moscow has long-standing grievances over Nato’s expansion eastwards, but denies it is planning to further invade Ukraine.

On Sunday, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the number of Russian troops at the border rose at the weekend and that Mr Putin could launch an invasion “imminently”.

“He can execute some of those options imminently,” Mr Kirby told Fox News.

“Imminent means it could happen really, honestly, at any time. It depends on what Vladimir Putin might want to do.”

Updated: January 30, 2022, 6:05 PM