Putin rejected every U.S. off-ramp in Ukraine conflict, Blinken says

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits Tallinn
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By Humeyra Pamuk and Daphne Psaledakis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Russian President Vladimir Putin has rejected every off-ramp offered by the United States to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine and has, on the contrary, stepped up his military campaign, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday.

"We've sought to provide possible off-ramps to President Putin. He's the only one who can decide whether or not to take them. So far, every time there's been an opportunity to do just that, he's pressed the accelerator and continued down this horrific road that he's been pursuing," Blinken said at a joint news conference with his British counterpart Liz Truss.

"He has a clear plan right now to brutalize Ukraine but to what end?" Blinken said, adding that Ukrainians have shown that they would not accept any "puppet regime" that Putin might try to install to replace the elected Ukrainian government.

"If he tries to enforce such a puppet regime by keeping Russian forces in Ukraine, it will be a long, bloody, drawn-out mess," Blinken said.

Senior U.S. defense officials last month assessed that Russia's invasion of Ukraine is designed to 'decapitate' Ukraine's government.

More than 2 million people have fled Ukraine since Putin launched the land, sea and air invasion on Feb 24. Moscow calls its action a "special military operation" to disarm its neighbor and dislodge leaders it calls "neo-Nazis."

The war has swiftly cast Russia into economic isolation as well as drawing almost universal international condemnation. The United States on Tuesday banned imports of Russian oil, while Western companies are rapidly pulling out of the Russian market.

Russian forces hold territory stretching along Ukraine's northeast border, the east and the southeast. Fighting has taken place in the outskirts of the capital Kyiv, while Ukraine's second city Kharkiv is under bombardment.

Blinken has also slammed Russia for not allowing safe passage to civilians stuck in cities under heavy bombardment.

"The Kremlin's proposals to create humanitarian corridors leading into Russia and Belarus are absurd," he said.

Russia earlier this week had offered Ukrainians escape routes to Russia and its close ally Belarus, a proposal that a spokesperson for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said was "completely immoral."

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Daphne PsaledakisAdditional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Paul Simao)

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