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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arrive for security talks at the Hotel President Wilson.

Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS

What We’re Watching: Ukraine diplomacy, India’s no-campaign election, Italian presidential conclave, Burkina Faso coup, Russia moves on crypto

Ukraine diplomatic blitz. The US and the UK have withdrawn some staff from their embassies in Kyiv, and NATO countries put more troops on standby amid an ongoing flurry of diplomacy to stop Russia from invading Ukraine. After playing defense for his boss over Joe Biden’s controversial remarks about Russia and Ukraine, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned of a severe response if any Russian forces cross the border. However, Blinken — who is trying to shore up a united front with Europe while keeping the Russian dialogue open — turned down Ukraine’s demand for preemptive sanctions against Russia. Also, the UK accused the Russians of planning to install a pro-Moscow leader in Kyiv. Meanwhile, on the ground both sides continue to beef up their military presence. While the first US weapons arrived in Ukraine, across the border Russia moved troops and equipment to Belarus, Ukraine’s northern neighbor and a staunch Moscow ally. Blinken is expected to continue talks this week with the Russians, but there’s an X factor: China. Xi Jinping, whom Vladimir Putin now calls his “old friend”, probably doesn’t want the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics to be marred by a hot war in Europe, so perhaps he’ll try to talk his pal out of an invasion.

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