Tensions between Russia and the West rose on Tuesday over fears Moscow is attempting to escalate its conflict with Ukraine over the Donbas region.
Addressing reporters alongside Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels, the alliance’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg accused Russia of having moved “thousands of combat-ready troops to Ukraine’s borders”.
Stoltenberg urged Russia against the “unjustified” and “largest massing of Russian troops” since Russia annexed Ukraine’s southern Crimean peninsula in March 2014, after an uprising that toppled former Kremlin-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych, and called on Moscow to reverse course.
“Russia must end this military build-up in and around Ukraine, stop its provocations and de-escalate immediately,” Stoltenberg said, describing the troop deployment as “deeply concerning”.
Meanwhile, Moscow on Tuesday accused NATO and leading member the United States of turning Ukraine into a “powder keg” with increasing arms supplies, Russian agencies reported, citing the foreign ministry.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted as saying that military support provided by Washington to Kyiv posed a serious challenge to Russia, and warned that Moscow would do everything possible to ensure its security in the event of an escalation in the Donbas conflict.
Ryabkov also urged Washington to ensure two US warships due to arrive in the Black Sea this week stay well away from Crimea “for their own good”, saying the risk of unspecified incidents was very high.
“There is absolutely nothing for American ships to be doing near our shores, this is purely a provocative action. Provocative in the direct sense of the word: they are testing our strength, playing on our nerves. They will not succeed,” Ryabkov was cited as saying.