MOSCOW – The Kremlin expressed concerns on Thursday over a possible escalation of fighting in a separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine as the United States issued a strong warning to Russia to stay away from it. ‘Ukraine.
Ukrainian and Western officials have worried about a build-up of Russian troops near Ukraine, fearing it portends an invasion. But Moscow insisted it had no such intention and accused Ukraine and its Western backers of pretending to cover up their own supposedly aggressive designs.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during their meeting in Stockholm on Thursday that “if Russia decides to continue the confrontation, there will be serious consequences”, adding that “the best way to avoid a crisis is diplomacy â.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Moscow that “the aggressive and increasingly intensive provocative action by Ukrainian authorities on the line of contact” raised fears of a possible resumption of hostilities. He said recent statements by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian officials indicated that “the Ukrainian leadership is not ruling out a drastic scenario.”
“The likelihood of hostilities in Ukraine remains high,” Peskov said on a conference call with reporters.
Denis Pushilin, the leader of the self-proclaimed breakaway republic of Donetsk, told Russian state television he could turn to Moscow for military assistance if the region faced a Ukrainian attack.
Ukrainian authorities have denied any intention to recapture rebel regions by force.
The two former Soviet neighbors remained locked in a tense standoff after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014 after the country’s president, friend of the Kremlin, was ousted and supported a separatist insurgency in the center industrialist from eastern Ukraine, known as the Donbass. More than 14,000 people have died in the fighting.
President Vladimir Putin has warned NATO against deploying troops and weapons to Ukraine, saying this represents a red line for Russia and will trigger a firm response. He said on Wednesday that Moscow would seek Western guarantees preventing further NATO expansion and the deployment of its weapons near Russia’s borders.
Blinken said “we are deeply concerned about Russia’s plans for further aggression against Ukraine”, adding that “it is a concern shared by many in Europe”. He was speaking during a meeting with Lavrov on the sidelines of a ministerial meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Stockholm.
Blinken reaffirmed that the United States has “a firm and unwavering commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine”.
Referring to a 2015 peace accord for eastern Ukraine negotiated by France and Germany and signed in Minsk, Belarus, Blinken called for “full implementation of the Minsk accords with Russia. which withdraws its forces â.
Moscow says it is not a party to the deal between Ukraine and the self-proclaimed separatist regions, and denies Ukrainian and Western claims to send its troops and weapons to eastern Ukraine.
In his speech at the OSCE meeting, Lavrov urged Ukraine to abide by its obligation with the Minsk accord which contemplates broad autonomy for rebel regions, warning that Kiev’s refusal to honor it is a “path to disaster”.
He also warned Biden at their meeting that “any further eastern NATO expansion undoubtedly compromises our fundamental security interests.”
Russia’s top diplomat accused the West of “playing with fire” when it argues that Russia has no say in NATO’s expansion plans.
“I want to be perfectly clear: making our neighbors a foothold in the confrontation with Russia, the deployment of NATO forces in areas strategically important for our security is categorically unacceptable,” he said. during the OSCE meeting.
Lavrov followed through on Putin’s call for a new security deal, saying it is imperative to reach agreement on a set of “long-term, legally-binding security guarantees to avoid slipping into a confrontation â.
Jan M. Olsen contributed to this report from Copenhagen, Denmark.
Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.