Ukraine: US pledges support as Russian troops mass at border
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And the Foreign Secretary said London was working closely with its NATO allies to support Kiev. Russian troop movements near Ukraine have triggered concern in the West that Russia might be preparing an invasion.
I think that would be a grave mistake from Russia
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss
Russia has repeatedly denied it is about to attack Ukraine and insisted it has the right to deploy troops as it sees fit within its own territory.
Moscow has further accused Ukraine and NATO of whipping up tensions.
Asked about the consequences of a Russian invasion, Ms Truss said: “I think that would be a grave mistake from Russia.
“We are very close allies of Ukraine and we are working with our partners in NATO but also directly with Ukraine to make sure they are fully supported.”
Russia staged military drills in the Black Sea, south of Ukraine, on Wednesday and said it needed to sharpen the combat-readiness of its conventional and nuclear forces because of heightened NATO activity near its borders.
The United States and NATO have signalled their backing for Ukraine in ways that Moscow considers provocative, including through warship manoeuvres this month in the Black Sea and a delivery of US patrol boats to the Ukrainian navy.
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Ukraine on Wednesday staged what it called a “special operation” at the border with Belarus, including drone exercises and military drills for anti-tank and airborne units.
It has deployed 8,500 extra troops to the region, saying it fears being drawn into the migrant crisis, which has seen the European Union accuse Minsk of flying in people from the Middle East and pushing them to enter neighbouring Poland. Belarus denies fomenting the crisis.
Kiev also fears the border with Belarus, which is closely aligned with Russia close, could be used as the staging post for a military assault.
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The head of Ukraine’s military intelligence told the Military Times this weekend that Russia had more than 92,000 troops massed around Ukraine’s borders and was preparing for an attack by the end of January or beginning of February.
The Kremlin has claimed such suggestions were inflammatory, insisting it has no intention to threaten anyone.
Intelligence sources, diplomats and analysts believe Moscow may be using the escalation of tension with Ukraine as part of a wider strategy to exert pressure in Europe, including by backing Belarus in the migrant crisis and using its influence as the continent’s top gas supplier to press for quick regulatory approval of its new Nord Stream 2 pipeline to Germany.
Samir Puri, senior fellow in hybrid warfare at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said: “It feels more like another piece of coercive leverage that the Russians are heaping onto this strategic situation in Eastern Europe.
“It may well have value in that alone, rather than having to be followed through with a full-scale invasion which would be politically disastrous for Putin.”
Separately, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has accused the United States of practising nuclear strikes against Russian targets.
On Tuesday he said: “We are witnessing a considerable increase in the US strategic bombers’ activity near the Russian borders.
“Over the past month, they conducted about 30 flights to the borders of the Russian Federation, or 2.5 times more compared to the same period of last year.”
He added: “This month, in the course of the US Strategic Command’s Global Thunder exercise, 10 strategic bombers practiced employing nuclear weapons against Russia actually simultaneously from the western and eastern directions.
“The minimal distance from our state border was 20 km.”
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