Russia denies seeking a pretext for invading Ukraine

MOSCOW (AP) – Russia’s top diplomat angrily rejected US claims that he was preparing a pretext to invade Ukraine, as Russian troops gathered near the Ukrainian border launched several exercises on Monday.

The White House said this on Friday that US intelligence officials had concluded that Russia had already deployed operations to rebel-held eastern Ukraine to carry out acts of sabotage there and blame Ukraine for them in a “false-flag operation” to create a pretext for possible invasion.

In a speech to journalists on Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dismissed the US claim as “total misinformation”.

He confirmed that Russia expects a written response this week from the United States and its allies to Moscow’s request for binding guarantees that NATO will not embrace Ukraine or any other former Soviet nations or station its forces and weapons there.

Washington and its allies strongly rejected Moscow’s demands during last week’s Russia-US negotiations in Geneva and a related NATO-Russia meeting in Brussels, which were held as an estimated 100,000 Russian troops with tanks and other heavy weapons are gathered near Ukraine in what the West fears could be a prelude to an invasion.

In the midst of troop building, Russia has in recent weeks hosted a series of war games in regions bordering Ukraine. On Monday, the military announced the launch of yet another exercise involving armored units stationed in the western part of Russia, which includes 300 combat vehicles.

A delegation of US senators is visiting Ukraine to emphasize US support for the country.

“Our two-part congressional delegation is sending a clear message to the global community: the United States stands in unwavering support of our Ukrainian partners to defend their sovereignty and in the face of persistent Russian aggression,” said Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat. in a statement.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on Monday during a visit to Kiev that “any further escalation would cost the Russian regime a high price – economically, politically and strategically” – and stressed the need to continue negotiations.

“We are ready to have a serious dialogue with Russia because diplomacy is the only way to remedy this very dangerous situation,” she said.

Baerbock said Germany has offered to send cybersecurity specialists to Ukraine to help investigate last week cyberattack, which Ukrainian authorities have blamed Russia. At the same time, she noted that Germany has not changed its refusal to supply it with weapons.

“We made it clear that we will do everything we can to avoid escalating the crisis,” she said.

Ukrainian officials have warned that Russia could launch an attack from various directions, including from the territory of its ally Belarus.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has increasingly relied on Kremlin support amid Western sanctions over a brutal crackdown on domestic protests, said Russia and Belarus would hold massive military exercises next month.

Lukashenko said the maneuvers would be carried out on the western border of Belarus and also in the south of the country, where it borders Ukraine. Belarus’s Security Council secretary Alexander Volfovich said on Monday that Russian troops had already begun arriving in the country for the exercise, according to the BELTA news agency.

Russia has denied plans to attack its neighbor and in return accused the Ukrainian leadership of hatching plans to use force to regain control of Russian-backed rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine. The Ukrainian authorities have denied it.

Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 following the ouster of Ukraine’s Moscow-friendly leader and also threw its weight behind a separatist uprising in eastern Ukraine. More than 14,000 people have been killed in nearly eight years of fighting there.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that Moscow will take unspecified “military-technical measures” if the West stones its demands.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, who led the Russian delegation to the talks with the United States in Geneva, said last week that he would “neither confirm nor rule out” the possibility of Russia sending military assets to Cuba and Venezuela if the United States and its allies do so. . not curtail their military activities on Russia’s doorstep. U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has dismissed the comments as embarrassing.

Asked on Monday about the possibility of Russian missile deployment to Cuba and Venezuela, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that “Russia is thinking about how to ensure its security in the context of the current situation.”

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