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U.S., Russia to hold high-stakes talks on Ukraine

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet Friday in Geneva, capping off a week of diplomacy as the United States aims to fend off a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Over the last year, Russia has been shifting its troops, and it's estimated that about 100,000 are stationed near the border with eastern Ukraine. Russia recently deployed more troops to its ally Belarus for military exercises, a move that one U.S. official told The Guardian NATO didn't know about in advance. These troops, the official added, are in "numbers beyond what we'd expect in regard to a normal exercise."

The Biden administration has warned that Russia could be planning a false-flag attack, sending operatives into Ukraine to launch an assault that would give pretext to an invasion. On Tuesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at this stage, "Russia could at any point launch an attack on Ukraine." 

During their meeting, Blinken and Lavrov will discuss "if there is a possible diplomatic off-ramp to this crisis," a State Department official told reporters on Tuesday. The United States is "prepared to continue to engage with Russia on security issues in a meaningful, reciprocal dialogue," the official added. "We will see this Friday if Russia is prepared to do the same." Before the summit, Blinken will meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv, as well as his French, German, and British counterparts in Berlin. 

Russia says that its troops, heavy weaponry, and tanks along the border do not indicate that an invasion is imminent. Citing security concerns, Moscow is insisting that the West not let Ukraine and Georgia into NATO, a demand the Biden administration has said it will not entertain.