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Russia says West risking 'nightmare' scenario in Europe over Ukraine, US demands Putin pull troops

Blinken is in Sweden for a European security summit where he expressed the US's growing concern over Russia's military buildup on its border with Ukraine

Secretary of State Antony Blinken exchanged thinly-veiled threats and warnings with his Russian counterpart in Stockholm on Thursday as relations between the United States and Russia remain chilly and the threat of conflict in Ukraine is still high.

Blinken met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on the sidelines of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) summit in Stockholm, Sweden.  

Just beforehand the US's chief diplomat warned Lavrov in front of the cameras that 'serious consequences' would be in store if Russia invaded Ukraine but maintained 'diplomacy' was the best way to avoid an international crisis.   

Satellite images have shown what appears to be a growing number of troops and tanks at Russia's border with Ukraine's Donbas region, alarming the global community and prompting President Joe Biden to send his CIA director on a last-minute trip to Moscow to make his concerns known to Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

'The best way to avert a crisis is through diplomacy, and that's what I look forward to,' Blinken said before his private chat with Lavrov. 'The United States is willing to facilitate that, but – and again, in the spirit of being clear and candid, which is the best thing to do – if Russia decides to pursue confrontation, there will be serious consequences.' 

Lavrov seemed to agree, telling the media: 'I have no doubts that the only way out of today's crisis, which is indeed quite tense, is actually to seek the balance of interests.' 

But before the meeting on Thursday, Russia declared there was still a high chance of a new conflict with Ukraine amid the Kremlin's concern over the former Soviet state's 'aggressive' rhetoric. 

Lavrov said Russia is 'interested in making steps to regulate, to settle the Ukrainian crisis.'

He struck a more ominous tone when addressing the OSCE summit, reiterating that Moscow will not accept NATO membership for Ukraine or the stationing of NATO missiles there that could threaten it.

'The alliance's military infrastructure is drawing closer to Russia's borders. The nightmare scenario of military confrontation is returning,' Lavrov warned. 

Blinken and Lavrov spoke to reporters before engaging in a short half-hour meeting

Their face-to-face lasted a brief 30 minutes, with short remarks to reporters beforehand. Blinken described it as 'candid' afterwards. 

After the meeting Blinken spoke to the media again and said Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin would talk soon. He also stepped up his warnings to Russia over its military aggression.

'I made very clear our deep concerns and our resolve to hold Russia responsible for its actions, including our commitment to work with European allies to impose severe costs and consequences on Russia if it takes further aggressive action against Ukraine,' he said.

'It's now on Russia to de-escalate the current tensions by reversing the recent troop buildup, returning forces to normal peacetime positions and refraining from further intimidation and attempts to destabilize Ukraine.'

He added, 'I think it's likely the presidents will speak directly in the near future.' 

This handout satellite image released by Maxar Technologies and taken on November 1, 2021 shows a view of armored units and support equipment amid the presence of a large ground forces deployment on the northern edge of the town of Yelnya, Smolensk Oblast, Russia

Lavrov said he and Russian President Vladimir Putin 'do not want any conflicts' 

Interfax news agency, quoting Russia's foreign ministry, said Lavrov told Blinken Moscow would respond if Ukraine got drawn into any U.S. 'geopolitical games'. 

Ukraine claimed Russia has amassed more than 90,000 troops near their long shared border, while Moscow accused Kyiv of pursuing its own military build-up. 

It has dismissed suggestions it is preparing for an attack on Ukraine as inflammatory accusations and has defended its right to deploy troops on its own territory as it sees fit. 

During the bilateral remarks to reporters Lavrov said neither he nor Putin 'want any conflicts' but indicated Russia could take action if Ukraine continued to grow closer with the Western NATO alliance.

'We, as President Putin stated, do not want any conflicts, but if our NATO partners have stated that no one has a right to dictate to a country that would like to join NATO whether it can do or not, we can say that every country is able to define its own interests to guarantee their security,' he said.

Lavrov added that 'And NATO's extension... will infringe upon our security, obviously.'

A militant of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic walks at fighting positions on the line of separation from the Ukrainian armed forces in the outskirts of Kirovsk in Luhansk Region, Ukraine December 1, 2021.

Tens of thousands of Russian troops have amassed near the Ukrainian border in recent weeks, sparking fears of an imminent invasion. (Pictured: Marines of the Baltic Fleet forces of the Russian Navy train in the zone of obstacles during military exercises at the Khmelevka firing ground in the Kaliningrad region, Russia November 24, 2021)

Ukrainian forces meanwhile are preparing to repel any offensive, with the government appealing to the international community for help in combatting any Russian incursion into Ukrainian territrory (Servicemen of the Ukrainian Air Assault Forces attend military drills in Zhytomyr Region, Ukraine November 21, 2021)

DailyMail.com has reached out to the Russian Foreign Ministry for reaction to Blinken's warning of 'consequences.'

On Thursday he declined to tell reporters what those consequences could be,  saying only that 'Moscow knows very well the universe of what's possible.'

Russia has withstood multiple rounds of international sanctions since it seized the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014. 

But Western governments have a potential new lever now, as Moscow is awaiting German regulatory approval to start pumping gas through a newly built $11 billion pipeline under the Baltic Sea.

Blinken said Moscow and Kyiv should each fulfil their obligations under the Minsk peace process, which was designed to end a war between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces in the east of the former Soviet republic.

Biden and Putin's last in-person meeting took place in Geneva in June of this year

State Department spokesman Ned Price said Blinken 'underscored that the best path forward is diplomacy in conjunction with the full implementation of the Minsk agreements, a process the United States is willing and ready to support' after the meeting.

'Should Moscow choose the path of military escalation, the Secretary made clear that the United States and our allies are prepared to impose significant costs,' Price said. 

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked at her daily briefing on Thursday whether the Biden administration would consider anything other than economic sanctions to punish Russian aggression.

'We are in close coordination [with European allies], preparing a range of options and have conveyed directly to the Russians that if they proceed as they did in 2014, we have a range of options that we will consider taking,' she said.

Biden and Putin last met face-to-face in Geneva, Switzerland in June, but have spoken on the phone since.