The Russian military has apparently moved troops near the border with Ukraine. After criticism from the US, the Kremlin is now threatening to take action if Western states send troops into the country.
Russia has described the troop movements near the border with Ukraine as a self-defense measure. “The activities of NATO, other alliances and individual states are increasing on the Russian borders,” said a spokesman for the presidential office on Thursday. “All of this obliges us to be vigilant.”
Moscow, however, denies wanting to threaten Ukraine with the troop movements and on Friday threatened to take action on its part if Western states should send armed forces into the country. “Russia threatens no one and has never threatened anyone,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists on Good Friday.
Regarding a possible Western troop transfer to Ukraine, Peskov said that “such a scenario would undoubtedly lead to a further increase in tensions near Russia’s borders”. “Of course, this would require additional measures on the Russian side to ensure Russian security,” he added.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also warned that an escalation in the Donbass region could destroy Ukraine. Earlier remarks by President Vladimir Putin were still applicable, he said. A NATO representative told Reuters that Russia was undermining peace efforts in eastern Ukraine. Allies are concerned about “Russia’s recent large-scale military activities in and around Ukraine.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Selenskyj had previously stated that Russia had increased its troop presence on the border with Ukraine. Moscow wants to create a “threatening atmosphere”. Ukrainian military intelligence accused the Russian army of wanting to expand its presence in the rebel-controlled Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
In the past few days, the Ukrainian military had spoken of three places where Russia was apparently increasing its troops. According to unconfirmed footage on social media, the Moscow government is moving tanks and other material to the border regions and to Crimea, which it annexed in 2014.
Sharp criticism from the USA
The United States, in particular, has sharply criticized Moscow after reports about the transfer of Russian troops to the border with Ukraine. Washington is concerned “because of the recent escalation of the aggressive and provocative actions by Russia in eastern Ukraine,” said US State Department spokesman Ned Price on Thursday. He warned Moscow against attempts to “intimidate or threaten our partner Ukraine”.
According to Kiev, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin telephoned his Ukrainian colleague Andrei Taran. Austin has assured that Washington will not leave Ukraine “in the event of escalating Russian aggression,” said the Ukrainian Defense Ministry.
Increase in violence in the conflict in Eastern Ukraine
Moscow and Kiev this week blamed each other for the recent increase in violence in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. According to Ukrainian sources, 20 soldiers have been killed and 57 others injured in attacks by pro-Russian rebels since the beginning of the year.
More than 13,000 people have already been killed in the conflict over eastern Ukraine. Russia rejects the allegation that it provides military support to the rebels. In July last year, the conflicting parties agreed on a ceasefire. Since mid-February, however, there has been increased fighting, which is steadily undermining the already fragile ceasefire.
Most recently, violence has increased again in eastern Ukraine. The government in Kiev and the West accuse the government in Moscow of supporting the separatists in eastern Ukraine financially and with arms.