Blinken Putin could quickly order Russia to invade Ukraine

Blinken Putin could quickly order Russia to invade Ukraine. U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken warned Wednesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin could quickly order an invasion of Ukraine if he had a pretext for doing so but that NATO allies stand ready to inflict heavy sanctions on Russia’s economy if that happens.

Tensions over a Russian troop buildup along the border of Ukraine have been a focus of Blinken’s weeklong Europe trip and topped the agenda of his meeting Wednesday with NATO counterparts in Latvia. The Ukrainian government is seeking to align with NATO and the West.

“We don’t know whether President Putin has made the decision to invade. We do know that he’s is putting in place the capacity to do so on short order should he so decide,” Blinken told reporters in Riga, Latvia’s capital. “We must prepare for all contingencies.”

“We’re also urging Ukraine to continue to exercise restraint because, again, the Russian playbook is to claim provocation for something that they were planning to do all along,” he said.

Blinken said the U.S. has “made it clear to the Kremlin that we will respond resolutely, including with a range of high-impact economic measures that we’ve refrained from using in the past.” He gave no details on what kind of “high impact” sanctions would be considered.

The European Union’s Parliament approved a nonbinding resolution in April to cut off Russia from the so-called SWIFT system of international payments if its troops entered Ukraine.

Such a move would go far toward blocking Russian businesses from the global financial system. Western allies reportedly considered such a step in 2014 and 2015, during earlier Russian-led escalations of tensions over Ukraine. Then-Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said at the time the Russian response to that financially crippling move would be “without limits.”

Putin on Wednesday said that Moscow would seek Western guarantees precluding any further NATO expansion and deployment of its weapons near his country’s borders.

Amid the tensions, Moscow on Wednesday launched drills in southwestern Russia involving over 10,000 troops. A smaller exercise also began in Russia’s westernmost region of Kaliningrad on the Baltic, involving 1,000 personnel from armored units.

Apart from targeting Russia for sanctions, Blinken said that “NATO is prepared to reinforce its defenses on the eastern flank.” He did not elaborate. The military organization already has forces stationed in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.

Blinken is scheduled to meet Thursday in Sweden with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. He said he would encourage Russia’s top diplomat to return to talks under the “Normandy” format, with France and Germany.

“There is a diplomatic path forward. We are certainly not looking for conflict,” Blinken said.

A 2015 peace deal brokered by France and Germany helped end large-scale battles in eastern Ukraine sparked after Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula the previous year. But efforts to reach a political settlement failed and sporadic skirmishes continue along the tense line of contact.

While in Stockholm on Thursday, Blinken also plans to hold talks with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on the sidelines of a minister-level meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Wang Jianbing visited dying construction workers. Sophia Huang Xueqin investigated China’s earliest #MeToo cases. Fang Ran wanted to empower factory workers in the south.

This year, all three disappeared.

The recent censorship of Peng Shuai, a tennis player who was erased from the Chinese internet after accusing a former party leader of sexual abuse, has drawn a global outcry of concern for her safety and freedom. But lesser-known individuals such as Wang, Huang and Fang have been vanishing as China tightens restrictions for activism on gender, labor and other issues.

The three activists were held in a form of secret detention called “residential surveillance at a designated location,” or RSDL, which allows the state to lock up people in “black jails” without trial. The human rights group Safeguard Defenders estimates that 45,000 to 55,000 people have been subjected to RSDL since Xi Jinping became president in 2013, including as many as 15,000 in 2020 alone.

Sophia Huang Xueqin, who investigated China’s earliest #MeToo cases, is in detention in Guangzhou on charges of “inciting subversion of state power,” friends and family say.

Wang and Huang were later moved to formal detention in Guangzhou on charges of “inciting subversion of state power,” according to their families and friends. Fang’s whereabouts remain unknown.

Many RSDL detainees are accused of endangering national security. Human rights lawyers, political dissidents, petitioners and members of religious or ethnic minorities have been common targets. Women’s and workers’ rights were once considered safer issues for social activists to pursue without crossing political lines. But that has changed as the Communist Party moves to silence any citizen it deems a “stability” threat.

President Xi considers civil society a “Western” phenomenon that challenges party authority. He has criminalized and decimated civil society with waves of arrests, starting with a mass roundup of lawyers and rights activists in 2015. Nowadays, security services tend to go after individuals one by one, perhaps knowing it attracts less attention.

“They finished with the high-profiles and now they go for the low-profiles,” said Rio, 35, a labor activist and friend of Wang’s who asked to use only his English name for protection.

Under Xi’s leadership, the Communist Party is also trying to transform its own system. Disciplinary purges have targeted thousands of cadres and officials for disloyalty or corruption. A party remake of Chinese society is also underway, with billionaires and celebrities pressured to renounce selfish, shallow or foreign-influenced behavior and to vow to serve the party better.

Fang was the first of the three activists to vanish. The 26-year-old was studying for a PhD in sociology at the University of Hong Kong, writing a thesis on labor empowerment in mainland China. He was also a Communist Party member, according to his father, Fang Jianzhong, who reportedly wrote a WeChat post begging for help for his son that was shared widely before it was censored.

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