Canberra: Russia could invade Ukraine during the current Beijing Winter Olympics so Americans should leave the Eastern European country immediately, US 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 .

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 US 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. (AP)

Also read: UK PM Boris Johnson cites ‘a dangerous moment’ in Ukraine crisis


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