Russia on Thursday warned that a serious escalation of the conflict in the Donbass could “destroy” Ukraine as NATO expressed concern over what it called a large Russian military build-up near eastern China. Ukraine.
Unverified images from social media suggest that Russia has transferred large amounts of tanks, armored personnel carriers and other equipment to the border regions of Ukraine as well as to Crimea, which Moscow annexed to Ukraine in 2014.
Russian activity poses a first challenge to the administration of US President Joe Biden, which has had phone calls this week with senior Ukrainian officials as part of a public demonstration in support of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s government.
“In part, these are the usual tactics of escalating the conflict to create instability, to show that Russia is a key player,” said an EU diplomat. “We cannot rule out that Biden’s presidency is part of the Russian calculation, that it is time for Moscow to show some muscle.”
Moscow and Kiev have long accused each other of not having implemented a peace agreement on the Donbass. Relations are further strained by the fate of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany, which Kiev and Washington want to stop, and by a crackdown in Ukraine of a prominent businessman close to Russia.
NATO expressed concern over the strengthening of the Russian military as NATO ambassadors met to discuss a recent spike in violence in the eastern Donbass region, where Ukrainian troops fought the forces Russia-backed separatists in an estimated Kiev conflict has killed 14,000 people since 2014.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin spoke to his Ukrainian counterpart Andrii Taran and “condemned the recent escalations of aggressive and provocative actions by Russia in eastern Ukraine,” said the Minister of Defense. Pentagon.
“I reaffirmed our unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and Euro-Atlantic aspirations,” Austin said on Twitter.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba accused Russia of a “systemic worsening” of the security situation in Donbass and Crimea.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov played down the build-up, saying “it should not bother anyone and pose no threat to anyone”. Russia was taking steps to ensure the security of its own borders, he said.
“There is increased activity on the perimeter of Russia’s borders by NATO, other alliances, individual countries – all of this requires us to be vigilant,” Peskov said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said most Ukrainian military personnel seemed to understand the danger of a “hot conflict” in Donbass.
“I really hope they won’t be ‘prompted’ by politicians, who in turn will be ‘prompted’ by the West, led by the United States,” Lavrov said.
“Russian President Putin said (this) not long ago, but this statement is still relevant today, that those who would try to start a new war in Donbass – would destroy Ukraine.
A NATO official told Reuters that Moscow was undermining peace efforts in eastern Ukraine.
“The Allies have raised concerns about recent large-scale Russian military activities in and around Ukraine. Allies are also concerned about Russian violations of the July 2020 ceasefire which resulted in the deaths of four Ukrainian soldiers last week, ”the official said.
Ukraine, Western countries and NATO accuse Russia of sending troops and heavy weapons to support its proxies in the Donbass who seized part of eastern Ukraine in 2014.
Russia says it only provides political and humanitarian support to separatist fighters in what it calls an internal conflict.
Ukrainian military intelligence accused Russia of technical provocations to create a pretext to send additional Russian military units to the Donbass.
“In addition, an attempt to advance the Russian occupation forces deep into Ukraine is not excluded,” he said.