The United States is accusing Russia of trying to “gaslight” the world regarding tensions with Ukraine, continually seeking to portray Kyiv as the aggressor even as Moscow plans to mobilize as many as 300,000 troops for a potential invasion.
The accusation came Friday from U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, following a virtual meeting of NATO foreign affairs ministers, and ahead of a series of talks involving the U.S., NATO and Russia set for the coming week.
“We’ve seen this gaslighting before,” Blinken told reporters, referring to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its illegal seizure of Crimea in 2014. Gaslighting is defined by one online dictionary as causing people to doubt their sanity through psychological manipulation.
“No one should be surprised if Russia instigates a provocation or incident, then tries to use it to justify military intervention,” the top U.S. diplomat added, warning that Russia’s military buildup involves “nearly 100,000 troops today with plans to mobilize twice that number on very short order.”
“This is a test for Russia,” Blinken added, cautioning progress can be made only “in the context of de-escalation.”
“If it is serious about resolving the situation in eastern Ukraine and to resolve it diplomatically and peacefully, the Minsk [Agreement] is the way to do it,” he said, adding that a failure to do so would result in “massive consequences.”
Speaking separately in Brussels earlier on Friday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed Moscow’s willingness to engage in talks this coming week. But he warned that while NATO would listen to Russia’s concerns in “good faith,” the Kremlin must be willing to do likewise on a range of issues, including arms control.
“For dialogue to be meaningful, it must also address allies’ long-standing concerns about Russia’s actions,” Stoltenberg told reporters. “That has to be reciprocal.”
Stoltenberg further warned that NATO would not give in to Russian demands.
“We will not compromise on core principles, including the right for every nation to determine its own path,” he said. “We cannot end up in a situation where we have second class NATO members where NATO as an alliance is not allowed to protect them.”
Russia has repeatedly accused Ukraine of carrying out a military buildup of its own and has demanded that NATO agree to a series of security guarantees, including a rollback of the alliance’s military presence in Eastern Europe and that it put an end to any expansion, including possible membership for countries like Ukraine and Georgia.
In an interview with Bloomberg News on Wednesday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said President Vladimir Putin wanted to see immediate results following the upcoming talks.
“That’s not a figure of speech,” Ryabkov said, adding that the success or failure of the upcoming talks will depend on “the extent to which our American colleagues are receptive to our demands.”
On Thursday, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke by phone with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu about “risk reduction near Ukraine’s borders.”
Still, Russia’s tough talk has touched off a flurry of diplomatic activity among Western allies, including calls between NATO officials and the leaders of Finland and Sweden.
And Blinken spoke by phone Friday with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, reassuring Kyiv of U.S. support.
However, speaking to reporters, Blinken said, “It will be very difficult to make actual progress if Russia continues to escalate its military buildup and its inflammatory rhetoric.”
And in Brussels, NATO’s Stoltenberg added that the Western alliance is clear-eyed about the upcoming discussions.
“We need to be prepared for the talks breaking down and that diplomacy will fail,” he said. “That is exactly why we are sending a very clear message to Russia that if they once again decide to use military force against a neighbor, then there will be severe consequences, a high price to pay — economic sanctions financial sanctions, political sanctions.”