Russia could invade Ukraine any time, including during Olympics, Blinken says after Quad meeting

(From left) US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi meet in Melbourne, on Feb 11, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

MELBOURNE (AFP, BLOOMBERG) - US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday (Feb 11) said Russia is amassing yet more troops on Ukraine's border, and warned an invasion could come "any time", including during the Winter Olympics, which will end on Feb 20.

"We're in a window when an invasion could begin at any time, and to be clear that includes during the Olympics," he said, brushing aside suggestions that Moscow would wait until after the Beijing Games to avoid upstaging its ally China.

"Simply put, we continue to see very troubling signs of Russian escalation," Mr Blinken said after a meeting of counterparts from the so-called Quad countries - Australia, India, Japan and the United States - in Melbourne.

Mr Blinken insisted that the US "would strongly prefer to resolve the differences" with Russia "through diplomacy".

"We've made every possible effort to engage Russia," he said.

"But at the same time, we've been very clear in building deterrence and building defence and making it clear to Russia that if it chooses the path of renewed aggression, it will face massive consequences."

His comments come as President Joe Biden urged Americans in Ukraine to immediately leave the country, another strong public signal that war may be drawing closer.

"American citizens should leave, should leave now," Mr Biden said in an interview with NBC News.

"We're dealing with one of the largest armies in the world. This is a very different situation and things could go crazy quickly."

Mr Blinken said the world’s response to the Ukraine crisis was being watched by “others” - in a pointed reference to, what some call, China’s expansive territorial claims in Asia.

“Others are watching, others are looking to all of us to see how we respond,” Mr Blinken told reporters on Friday.

His comments come after China stepped up its military exercises around Taiwan in recent months, including record numbers of flybys around the island which Beijing considers a renegade province to be reunited, by force if necessary.

China is also engaged in a Himalayan border stand-off with India and has built up its naval presence in the South China Sea.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the Quad is only a tool to contain China.

“This is a deliberate move to stoke confrontation and undermine international solidarity and cooperation,” he said at a regular news briefing on Friday. “I want to stress that the Cold War is long gone and any attempt to create an alliance that is aimed at containing China will not be popular and such moves is doomed to fail.”

Mr Blinken said countries should not change the borders of other nations by force or dictate to another government.

If these actions are allowed, it affects hard-fought basic principles established after two World Wars and a Cold War, he added.

“So, that’s why it’s so important that we have this solidarity that we do everything possible, through diplomacy, to try to avert a conflict and prevent aggression, but equally to be resolute if Russia renews its aggression,” he said.

Moscow has repeatedly insisted it is not planning an incursion into Ukraine and Russian President Vladimir Putin has criticised a build-up of Nato forces near his country’s borders.

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