CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Russia could invade Ukraine during the current Beijing Winter Olympics so Americans should leave the Eastern European country immediately, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday.
Blinken did not detail the reasons behind the State Department’s latest security alert that calls on all American citizens to leave Ukraine.
“Simply put, we continue to see very troubling signs of Russian escalation, including new forces arriving at the Ukrainian border,” Blinken said in Melbourne, Australia.
“We’re in a window when an invasion could begin at any time and, to be clear, that includes during the Olympics,” Blinken added. The Olympic Games are scheduled to end on Feb. 20.
Russia has amassed over 100,000 troops near Ukraine. It says it has no plans to invade but wants the West to keep Ukraine and other former Soviet countries out of NATO.
The threat of war in Ukraine and a strengthened alliance between Russia and China were high on the agenda of a meeting in Canberra on Friday among Blinken and his counterparts from India, Japan and Australia.
The four nations form the “Quad,” a bloc of Indo-Pacific democracies created to counter China’s growing regional influence.
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, who chaired the meeting, said the alliance between Moscow and Beijing was “concerning because it doesn’t … represent a global order that squares with … ambitions for freedom and openness and sovereignty and the protection of territorial integrity.”
On the question of the alliance, Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, whose government is one of Russia’s biggest customers for military hardware, emphasized that the Quad partnership was about shared ambitions and “not against somebody.”
Asked by a reporter if Russia had behaved appropriately toward Ukraine, Jaishankar replied that the Quad meeting was focused on the Indo-Pacific region, not Europe.
Blinken earlier said a conflict with China in the Indo-Pacific was not inevitable.
“We share concerns that in recent years China has been acting more aggressively at home and more aggressively in the region and indeed potentially beyond,” Blinken said.
The Quad partners are united by an “affirmative vision for what the future can bring” and a “commitment to defend the rules-based system that we have spent tremendous time and effort building,” he added.
Blinken’s trip is designed to reinforce America’s interests in Asia and its intent to push back against increasing Chinese assertiveness in the region. He will also visit Fiji and discuss pressing concerns about North Korea with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts in Hawaii.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian dismissed Quad concerns about Beijing’s expanding influence among Pacific island nations.
China’s support for Pacific island countries is “open, transparent and inclusive, without targeting any third party,” Zhao said, in an apparent reference to the U.S. and its allies.
“We hope all countries will take concrete actions to help Pacific island countries deal with their challenges and do more to contribute to regional peace, stability and development,” he said at a daily briefing.
Australia has suffered trade retaliation in recent years for angering Beijing over actions that include outlawing covert foreign interference in domestic politics, banning Chinese tech giant Huawei from major infrastructure projects and urging an independent investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he felt reassured by the shared commitment against coercion after meetings with Blinken, Jaishankar and Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi.
In a joint statement issued after their meeting, the foreign ministers also expressed grave concern about the crisis in Myanmar following the military’s seizure of power last year and called for an end to violence, the release of people detained arbitrarily and unhindered humanitarian access.
They also condemned “destabilizing” ballistic missile launches by North Korea and called for its complete denuclearization.
Earlier Friday, Blinken and Hayashi held a meeting in which they expressed “deep concern” about Russia’s beefing up of its military at the Ukrainian border, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official said on condition of anonymity, citing protocol.
The leaders also shared “grave concern” about North Korea’s escalating nuclear and missile development, the official said.
This story corrects that the meeting was in Melbourne, not Canberra.
Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.