US, Russia hold talks as Ukraine tensions mount: Live updates

United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken has met his Russian counterpart as the divide between Moscow and Washington widens over Ukraine.

Blinken’s talks with Sergey Lavrov took place on Thursday on the sidelines of a summit of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Stockholm, where foreign ministers from the group’s 57 members discussed key regional security issues.

The high-level Russia-US meeting comes after weeks of tension, with Kyiv and its Western allies voicing concern over a significant build-up of Russian troops near the frontier with Ukraine.

Moscow denies planning an invasion and accuses Ukraine of building up its own forces in the east of the country, where government forces have battled Russian-backed separatists since early 2014 following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea from Kyiv.

Here are the latest updates:

32 mins ago (12:54 GMT)

EU approves security aid to Ukraine, Kyiv says

The European Council, the European Union’s executive arm, has decided to give 31 million euros ($35m) in security aid to Ukraine’s armed forces, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba says.

The money will be spent on medicine, engineering, demining, logistics and cybersecurity, Kuleba said in a tweet, adding: “We highly appreciate this step which reaffirms the strategic Ukraine-EU relations.”

Kyiv has pressed its EU and NATO allies to prepare economic sanctions on Russia to deter Moscow from launching a new military offensive on Ukraine.

36 mins ago (12:50 GMT)

UK restates support for Ukraine’s sovereignty

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has said she restated the United Kingdom’s support for Ukraine’s sovereignty during a meeting with Lavrov at the OSCE summit.

“Met Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in Stockholm @OSCE. I re-stated the UK’s support for Ukraine’s sovereignty,” Truss said on Twitter. “We also discussed Iran and Afghanistan and bilateral issues.”

48 mins ago (12:39 GMT)

Blinken urges Russia to opt for diplomacy

Blinken warned Lavrov before the pair’s talks of the “serious consequences” Russia would suffer if it invaded Ukraine, and urged Moscow to seek a diplomatic exit from the crisis.

“The best way to avert the crisis is through diplomacy, and that’s what I look forward to discussing with Sergey,” he told reporters before going into the discussions.

Blinken also said Russia and Ukraine should fully implement their obligations under the 2014 Minsk peace process, which was designed to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Washington was willing to facilitate this, he added.

2 hours ago (11:30 GMT)

Russia to unveil security pact proposals to restrain NATO

Lavrov says Moscow will soon put forward proposals for a new European security pact it hopes will stop NATO from expanding further eastwards.

In a speech to the OSCE, Lavrov said Europe was returning to the nightmare of military confrontation and that he hoped Russia’s suggestions would be carefully considered.

“NATO refuses to constructively examine our proposals to de-escalate tensions and avoid dangerous incidents,” he said. “On the contrary, the alliance’s military infrastructure is drawing closer to Russia’s borders. The nightmare scenario of military confrontation is returning.”

2 hours ago (11:15 GMT)

‘Risk of something going wrong mounts day-by-day’

Al Jazeera’s Bernard Smith, reporting from Moscow, says the talks between Blinken and Lavrov are an “opportunity” for both sides to reiterate their respective positions face-to-face.

“For Russia, it’s unacceptable… that NATO could spread eastwards, accepting not just Ukraine but also Georgia as potential new members,” Smith said.

“But the US has said it is not up to Russia what sovereign nations like Ukraine and Georgia decide to do, and while those discussions go on, the troop build-up and confrontation on the border with Ukraine and Russia continues… and the risk of something going wrong mounts day-by-day as these two sides face off.”

Ukraine aspires to join both NATO, of which it is currently an ally but not a member, and the EU.

3 hours ago (10:45 GMT)

Kremlin says probability of new conflict in Ukraine still high

The Kremlin says the probability of a new conflict in eastern Ukraine remains high amid “aggressive” rhetoric from Kyiv and an increase in what it claims are provocative actions by its neighbour.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call that Moscow was worried about the possibility of a Ukrainian military move in eastern Ukraine, something Kyiv has denied planning.

Peskov also said Russia viewed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s pledges to return annexed Crimea as a direct threat. “Such a formulation means that Kyiv may use any option, including force, to try and encroach on a Russian region,” he said.

3 hours ago (10:30 GMT)

Ukraine, EU discuss sanctions in case of Russian ‘aggression’

Ukraine’s Kuleba says he has met with the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell to speed up work on specific economic restrictions that could hit the Russian economy if Moscow launches a new offensive.

“We discussed the need to deter Russia and speed up work on specific economic restrictions which will be able to hit the Russian economy should Moscow decide to launch a new stage of aggression against Ukraine,” the foreign minister tweeted.

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