The Kremlin on Sunday accused the West of “artificially” whipping up tensions over Ukraine with repeated statements that Russia was ready to launch an attack on its neighbor – and told the United States and its allies to stop a military buildup nearby.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Saturday that his country has real concerns, which are widely shared with partners in Europe, about Russian activities at the Ukrainian border. U.S., NATO, and Ukrainian officials have been making similar statements for nearly two weeks, citing what they say are unusual Russian troop movements near Ukraine.
Moscow has rejected such proposals as inflammatory and complained about what it says is increasing activity in the region from the NATO alliance.
In comments to be broadcast later Sunday on state television, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said “a provocation” in the area could not be ruled out given US rhetoric.
“This hysteria is being artificially whipped up. We are being accused of some form of unusual military activity on our territory by those who have brought their armed forces in from across the sea. That is, the United States,” Peskov said.
“It’s not really logical or polite.”
Russian troops are gathering near the border, Ukraine says
Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014, a move that Ukraine considers illegal; many countries, including Canada, do not accept Russia’s claim to the region.
An ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine between Kiev and Russian-backed rebels in the region known as the Donbas has left an estimated 14,000 lives.
Now Ukraine said an estimated 90,000 Russian troops have gathered near the border.
The construction could be a prelude to yet another Russian invasion. In a speech to Ukraine’s foreign minister this month, Blinken said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “playbook” was for Russia to build forces near the border and then invade, “and falsely claimed it was provoked.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Friday that the alliance sees an “unusual concentration” of Russian forces along Ukraine’s border and warned that the same type of forces were previously used by Moscow to intervene in neighboring countries.
Although US officials do not believe an invasion is imminent, Putin has also hastened his dismissal of an independent Ukraine. A lengthy essay published by the Kremlin in July claims that Ukrainians and Russians are “one people” and that “Ukraine’s true sovereignty is possible only in partnership with Russia.”
But the move could also be saber-rattling to prevent Ukraine from growing closer to the West or joining NATO, which Putin strongly opposes. It is not clear whether Russia would risk invading Ukraine, launching a far more difficult war or wanting to occupy enemy territory.
A similar Russian military build-up in the spring did not lead to an invasion, though lawmakers and officials say they are more concerned now, citing U.S. intelligence services that have not been made public.
Peskov suggested that Ukraine was probably looking for a way to solve its own problems with power, saying that Russia wanted NATO to stop “concentrating a military fist” near Russia’s own borders and stop arming Ukraine with modern weapons.
The Kremlin said in September that NATO would cross a Russian red line if it expanded its military infrastructure in Ukraine.
A ship carrying two rebuilt former U.S. Coast Guard patrol boats designed to strengthen the Ukrainian fleet crossed the Dardanelles Strait on Saturday.
Ukraine, which is striving to join NATO, received a large shipment of US ammunition and anti-tank missiles from Javelin earlier this year, sparking criticism from Moscow.