Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Russia is attempting to...

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Russia is attempting to assert a "sphere of influence" over Ukraine. Credit: Pool/AFP via Getty Images/Olivier Douliery

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday said the warnings by the United States and other European allies urging Russian President Vladimir Putin not to launch a military attack against Ukraine are an effort to preserve "the basic rules of the road of the international system."

"There is something even bigger at stake here, and it's the basic rules of the road of the international system," Blinken said in an interview with NBC’s "Meet the Press." "Rules that say that one country can't change the borders of another by force, one country can't dictate to another country its choices, its decisions, and its foreign policy, with whom it will associate.

"One country can't exert a sphere of influence over others. That's what Russia is purporting to assert, and if we let that go with impunity, then the entire system that provides for stability, prevents war from breaking out is in danger," Blinken said. "That's why this is so important."

Blinken’s televised appearance comes amid mounting tensions between Ukraine and Russia as Putin has ramped up Russia’s military presence along the border, prompting concerns among Ukraine’s democratically elected government and international observers that he may be preparing for an attempt to seize control of the fledgling country.

Biden met virtually with Putin last week, telling the Russian leader in a two-hour videoconference that the United States and other NATO allies will impose severe economic sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine.

Putin, according to a Kremlin readout of the call, urged Biden and the rest of the members of the NATO military alliance to back off any plans to increase the alliance’s presence in Ukraine. Ukraine is currently considered a partner but not an official member of the 30-nation alliance.

Blinken said the United States has taken "other steps" to provide Ukraine support against a possible attack from Putin, who in 2014 launched an invasion of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, eventually annexing the area. Russia has moved tens of thousands of troops to the border in recent weeks.

"We've been continuing to shore up Ukraine's defenses so that it can better defend itself if Russia commits acts of aggression," Blinken said. "We're also looking at what NATO can do, if necessary, to better defend itself. But at the end of the day … what is far preferable to all of this is diplomacy, and dialogue, and de-escalation. And if Russia moves in that direction, then we can avoid having another crisis, we can avoid the potential for conflict, and we can move things to a better path."

Biden on Wednesday told reporters sending U.S. troops to Ukraine is "not on the table," and in a virtual speech to NATO allies he said "the idea that the United States is going to unilaterally use force to confront Russia invading Ukraine is not in the cards right now."

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