NATO denounces the “ biggest gathering of Russian troops ” on Ukraine’s eastern border, while the Kremlin denounces Washington’s support for Kiev.
Tensions between Russia and the West rose on Tuesday over fears that Moscow is trying to escalate its conflict with Ukraine over the Donbass region.
Speaking to reporters alongside Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Alliance Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg accused Russia of having moved “thousands of soldiers ready to go. fight on the borders of Ukraine ”.
Stoltenberg urged Russia against the “unjustified” and “largest rally of Russian troops” since Russia annexed the southern Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in March 2014 after an uprising toppled the former president friend of the Kremlin, Viktor Yanukovych, and called on Moscow to reverse the trend.
“Russia must put an end to this surge in military power in and around Ukraine, end its provocations and immediately defuse it,” Stoltenberg said, calling the deployment of troops “deeply worrying”.
Meanwhile, Moscow on Tuesday accused NATO and the main US member of turning Ukraine into a “powder keg” with a growing supply of weapons, Russian agencies quoted the Foreign Ministry as reported.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov reportedly said Washington’s military support to Kiev posed a serious challenge to Russia and warned that Moscow would do everything possible to ensure its security in the event of an escalation of the conflict in Russia. Donbass.
Ryabkov also urged Washington to ensure that two US warships due to arrive in the Black Sea this week stay well away from Crimea “for their own good”, saying the risk of unspecified incidents is very high.
“There is absolutely nothing to do for American ships near our shores, it is purely provocative action. Provocative in the direct sense of the word: they test our strength, play on our nerves. They will not succeed, ”Ryabkov said.
Ukrainian government troops have fought Russian-backed separatists in the eastern Donetsk and Lugansk regions, which are part of Donbass, since rebels seized part of the territory in April 2014.
While a ceasefire ended a full-scale war in the region in 2015, sporadic clashes have never ceased and fears of an escalation of hostilities have grown in recent weeks amid new frontline clashes and the massive deployment of military units near the eastern border of Ukraine and Russia. in the Black Sea region of Crimea.
Russia has previously said the troop movements pose no threat and are simply defensive. Moscow also said military units will stay there for as long as they see fit.
Russia has repeatedly denied any interference in the Donbass, but Ukraine and several Western countries have said separatist forces in the region have been armed, directed, funded and aided by Moscow.
The NATO plea came a day after Kiev accused the Kremlin of ignoring its request for talks between the presidents of the two countries over military build-up.
Ukraine’s Kuleba said on Tuesday that Kiev would continue to seek a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
But he added that further economic sanctions against Moscow and increased military support could help protect Ukraine from escalation.
“At the operational level, we need measures that will deter Russia and contain its aggressive intentions,” Kuleba said at the press conference.
Ukraine is a NATO ally, but not a member. In recent weeks, Kiev has urged the alliance to rush membership, saying it is the only way to end the conflict in the Donbass, while Moscow has warned against such a move.
NATO has asked Kiev to focus on implementing domestic reforms and developing its defense capabilities, in order to be considered for membership.
Natacha Butler of Al Jazeera, who reports from Paris, said the comments made it clear that Kiev believed current NATO support “was not going far enough.”
“What Ukraine wants is full support from NATO,” she said. “He would get it as a member of NATO and thus feel that Russia should step back and end what it calls threats to its sovereignty.”