Russia accuses West of ‘artificially’ raising tensions over Ukraine border situation

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The Kremlin on Sunday accused the West of “artificially” whipping up tensions around Ukraine with repeated statements suggesting Russia was poised to launch an attack on its neighbour — and told the U.S. and its allies to stop a military buildup nearby.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Saturday his country has real concerns, widely shared with partners in Europe, over Russian activities at the Ukrainian border. U.S., NATO and Ukrainian officials have been making similar statements for nearly two weeks, referring to what they say are unusual Russian troop movements in the proximity of Ukraine.

Moscow has dismissed such suggestions as inflammatory and complained about what it says is increasing activity in the region by the NATO alliance.

In comments due to be broadcast later on Sunday on state TV, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that “a provocation” in the area could not be ruled out given the U.S. rhetoric.

“This hysteria is being artificially whipped up. We are being accused of some kind of unusual military activity on our territory by those who have brought in their armed forces from across the ocean. That is, the United States of America,” Peskov said.

“It’s not really logical or polite.”

Russian troops massing near border, Ukraine says

Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, a move that Ukraine considers illegal; many countries, including Canada, do not accept Russia’s claim to the region.

An ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine between Kyiv and Russian-backed rebels in the region known as Donbas has left an estimated 14,000 people dead.

Now, Ukraine said an estimated 90,000 Russian troops have amassed near the border.

The buildup could be a prelude to another Russian invasion. Speaking to Ukraine’s foreign minister this month, Blinken said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “playbook” was for Russia to build up forces near the border and then invade, “claiming falsely that it was provoked.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Friday that the alliance is seeing an “unusual concentration” of Russian forces along Ukraine’s border, warning that the same type of forces was used by Moscow in the past to intervene in neighbouring countries.

Though U.S. officials don’t believe an invasion is imminent, Putin has also ramped up his dismissal of an independent Ukraine. A lengthy essay the Kremlin published in July asserts that Ukrainians and Russians are “one people” and that the “true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia.”

This still image from video shows tanks and military vehicles in Maslovka, Voronezh Region, Russia, on April 6. A Russian military buildup in the spring near Ukraine did not lead to an invasion, though lawmakers and officials say they are more concerned now. (Reuters)

But the moves could also be sabre-rattling to prevent Ukraine from growing closer to the West or being admitted into NATO, which Putin strongly opposes. It’s not clear if Russia would risk invading Ukraine, setting off a far more difficult war, or want to occupy hostile territory.

A similar Russian military buildup in the spring did not lead to an invasion, though lawmakers and officials say they are more concerned now, citing U.S. intelligence that has not been made public.

Peskov suggested Ukraine was probably looking for a way to solve its own problems by force, and said Russia wanted NATO to stop “concentrating a military fist” near Russia’s own borders and to stop arming Ukraine with modern weapons.

The Kremlin said in September that NATO would cross a Russian red line if it expanded its military infrastructure in Ukraine.

A ship carrying two refitted former U.S. Coast Guard patrol boats designed to beef up the Ukrainian Navy transited the Dardanelles strait on Saturday.

Ukraine, which strives to become a NATO member, received a large consignment of U.S. ammunition earlier this year and Javelin anti-tank missiles, prompting criticism from Moscow.



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