Blinken Warns Russia Over Troop Movements on Ukraine Border
(Bloomberg) -- Secretary of State Antony Blinken voiced growing U.S. alarm over Russian troop movements near its border with Ukraine, saying on Wednesday that the American commitment to Kyiv is “ironclad.”
The U.S. still doesn’t “have clarity into Moscow’s intentions,” Blinken said at a news conference in Washington alongside his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, after Russia moved military forces to a training ground near Voronezh. He said the U.S. would be on the watch for a repeat of 2014, when Russia claimed it was provoked into annexing Crimea and stoking tensions in eastern Ukraine, a conflict that continues to this day.
“The playbook that we’ve seen in the past is to proclaim some provocation as a rationale for doing what it’s intended and planned to do all along, which is why we’re looking at this very carefully,” Blinken said. “Our concern is that Russia may make the serious mistake of attempting to rehash what it undertook in 2014.”
Ukraine estimates that Russia has expanded its presence on the border to almost 100,000 troops since tensions sparked in April. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Wednesday called for calm, saying his nation has been confronting Russian aggression for years.
“Shelling and explosions, buildup and relocation of the army has been happening for eight years,” Zelenskiy said in a speech to his nation. “Psychological pressure from Russia doesn’t have an impact on us, our intelligence has all the information, our army is ready to repel anytime and anywhere.”
Kuleba said Ukraine is looking for U.S. defense help, “be it intelligence-sharing or air defense systems or anything else,” though he declined to detail what he had asked for. The two sides signed a new charter on strategic partnership, in which they promised to deepen their cooperation in multiple areas including defense.
The talks in Washington took place as tension has increased between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which monitors the situation under peace accords signed in 2015, said Wednesday that during the last week of October its mission witnessed the most cease-fire violations since July 2020.
The defense intelligence firm Janes has said Russia is moving a battalion of T-80U battle tanks to a training ground in Voronezh where a Russian military buildup in the spring sparked Western demands for a pullback.
Ukraine needs “to fill all gaps in our resilience as soon as possible,” Kuleba said. “This is why we raised a number of issues with our American partners today on the most pressing needs of our security sector.”
The two leaders also discussed energy security, including what Ukraine sees as the threat of new Russian leverage once gas starts flowing through the new Nord Stream 2 pipeline to Germany, allowing Russian gas to bypass Ukraine. U.S. lawmakers have denounced the Biden administration’s acceptance of Nord Stream 2 as a done deal while pledging to protect Ukraine’s energy supplies.
Blinken said the U.S. was on the lookout for anything “should Russia attempt to use energy as a weapon.”
That prompted the lone discordant note of the press conference, a mild rebuke in which Kuleba said Ukraine believes Russia is already using gas as a weapon. He called on the U.S. and Germany to take action to make Russia stop.
“Russia should receive a very strong message not only from the U.S. but also from Berlin,” Kuleba said.
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