The Kremlin said Wednesday it could not reduce the number of Russian forces along the country’s border with Ukraine because the Kiev government is carrying out its own military buildup.
“Russia cannot take any measures to de-escalate,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “We have seen the messages that more than 120,000 [Ukrainian] troops have been deployed to the conflict zone. This raises our fears that sentiments [in Ukraine] in favor of a military solution to the Donbass problem could prevail.”
Earlier Wednesday, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused Ukraine of moving 125,000 troops — which she described as “half of the entire Ukrainian army” — to the eastern Donbass region of the country, where government forces have been fighting Russia-backed separatists since Moscow illegally annexed Crimea in 2014.
“This is very dangerous adventurism,” Peskov claimed. “All this causes us deep concern because this is happening in the immediate vicinity of our borders.”
Russia’s defense ministry has announced that winter military drills would begin in Crimea and in a border region near Donbass involving about 10,000 troops. Russia’s ally Belarus has also announced joint military drills with Moscow on its southern border with Ukraine.
The Ukrainian military had no immediate response to the Russian statements.
Meanwhile, foreign ministers of NATO countries were meeting for a second day Wednesday in the Latvian capital of Riga to address the rapidly evolving situation. During the proceedings, Ukraine Foreign Minister Dnytro Kuleba pleaded with the alliance to prepare sanctions against Russia to discourage an invasion.
Western nations have grown increasingly concerned about a possible attack on Ukraine by Moscow following the amassing of nearly 90,000 troops along the frontier.
The Kremlin has denied that it is preparing to invade Ukraine, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said he plans to raise the issue of the troop buildup during a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Thursday in Stockholm.
“Kiev is becoming increasingly insolent in its aggressiveness towards the Minsk agreements, the Russian Federation, and in its attempts to provoke the West to support its military ambitions,” said Lavrov, who plans to meet with Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the sidelines of the event.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who said Tuesday that Moscow would retaliate if the US or NATO crossed a “red line” by deploying missiles in Ukraine, said Wednesday that his country wants “strong, reliable and long-term guarantees of its security.”
“In a dialogue with the United States and its allies we will insist on working out specific agreements that would exclude any further NATO moves eastward and the deployment of weapons systems that threaten us in close vicinity to Russian territory,” Putin explained.
In an address to Ukraine’s parliament Wednesday, President Volodymyr Zelensky called for negotiations with Russia to end the Donbass conflict.
“We must tell the truth — we wouldn’t be able to stop the war without direct talks with Russia,” Zelenskyy said. “We aren’t afraid of a direct dialogue.”
The Kremlin responded by reaffirming its long-held stance that Russia isn’t a party to the fighting, describing it as a civil war.
“The war in Donbass is Ukraine’s internal business,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “We know about the attempts to cast Russia as a party to the conflict, but it’s not so. It’s only possible to end the war in Donbass through talks between Ukrainians.”
With Post wires