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Kremlin denies troop build-up near Ukraine border signals plan to invade


Kremlin denies troop build-up near Ukraine border signals plan to invade.

MOSCOW (AP) – The Kremlin on Friday rejected allegations that an increase in its troops near Ukraine reflects Moscow’s aggressive intentions and said Russia needs to ensure its security in response to alleged threats from NATO.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed Western media reports that Moscow intends to invade Ukraine as an “empty and unfounded attempt to incite tension.”

“Russia does not threaten anyone,” Peskov said during a conference call with journalists. “The movement of troops in our territory should not be of concern to anyone.”

Ukraine complained last week that Russia has kept tens of thousands of troops not far from the two countries’ borders after holding war games in an attempt to put more pressure on its former Soviet neighbor. Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 and has supported a separatist insurgency that broke out that year in eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry claimed that around 90,000 Russian soldiers are stationed not far from the border and in rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine. He said units of the Russian 41st Army remained in Yelnya, a city about 260 kilometers (about 160 miles) north of the border with Ukraine.

The commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian armed forces, Lieutenant General Valeriy Zaluzhny, said on Friday that Russia has about 2,100 servicemen in rebel-held areas, noting that Russian military officers hold all command posts in the forces. separatists.

Russia has supported the separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine that has left more than 14,000 dead. But Moscow has repeatedly denied any presence of its troops in eastern Ukraine.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken assured Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in Washington this week that the US commitment to Ukraine’s security and territorial integrity is “ironclad.”

On Friday, Blinken pointed to Russia’s previous aggressive actions against Ukraine. “From what they have done in the past, we have real concerns about what we are seeing in the present,” he said.

“We do not know the intentions of Russia,” Blinken told reporters in Washington. “But we do know what we have seen in the past: Russia forces itself on Ukraine’s borders en masse, demands some kind of provocation from Ukraine, and then invades. That’s what they did in 2014. ”

Blinken said the United States was “in very close consultation with European allies and partners on this.”

When asked on Thursday if Russia planned to invade Ukraine, Russia’s deputy ambassador to the UN, Dmitry Polyansky, replied that he “never planned, never did and never will unless we are provoked by Ukraine or someone else.” He cited what he called many threats from Ukraine and alleged provocative actions by American warships in the Black Sea.

Peskov also stressed on Friday that Russia needs to protect its security amid what he described as “mounting provocations” near its borders. He noted the US naval deployment to the Black Sea and the increasingly frequent intelligence flights by the US and NATO.

“We take steps to ensure our safety when our opponents take challenging measures near our borders,” Peskov said. “We cannot remain indifferent to that; we must be on guard. ”

The Russian Defense Ministry described the deployment of the US warships USS Mount Whitney and USS Porter, which sailed to the Black Sea last week, as a “threat to regional security and strategic stability.”

“The real objective behind US activities in the Black Sea region is to explore the theater of operations in the event of Kiev’s attempts to resolve the conflict in the southeast by force,” the ministry said in a statement.

The reported Russian military build-up near Ukraine also raised concerns in the European Union.

After discussing the issue with US President Joe Biden earlier this week, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said EU officials “fully support the territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

European Commission spokesman Peter Stano told reporters on Friday that the bloc is discussing the situation with its partners, including the United States and the United Kingdom, adding that “the information we have gathered so far is quite worrying.”

France’s defense and foreign ministers expressed concern about the situation in Ukraine during talks with their Russian counterparts in Paris on Friday.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Defense Minister Florence Parly “clearly warned of the grave consequences of any possible additional damage to Ukraine’s territorial integrity,” the French Foreign Ministry said in communication after the meeting.

French President Emmanuel Macron said later on Friday that he will speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the “coming days” about the situation in Ukraine and Belarus.

AP diplomatic writer Matthew Lee in Washington, Angela Charlton and Sylvie Corbet in Paris, Yuras Karmanau in Kiev, Ukraine, and Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this report.


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