Russia dismisses Western concerns about Ukraine as a smokescreen

Russia dismisses Western concerns about Ukraine as a smokescreen

Moscow The Kremlin on Monday vehemently rejected US allegations of a Russian troop build-up near Ukraine, saying it might be a hoax designed to cover up what it described as the aggressive intentions of the Ukrainian leadership.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has denied US media allegations about Moscow’s alleged plans to invade Ukraine as part of efforts to discredit Russia. He insisted that troop movements on Russian soil should not concern anyone.

Ukraine complained earlier this month that Russia kept tens of thousands of troops close to the two countries’ borders after conducting war games in a bid to increase pressure on its ex-Soviet neighbour. Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014 and supported the separatist rebellion that broke out that year in eastern Ukraine.

Speaking to Ukraine’s foreign minister this month, Foreign Minister Anthony Blinken noted that Russia’s “playbook” was to build up troops near the border and then invade, “falsely claiming to have been provoked.”

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Kirillo Budanov, the head of Ukraine’s military intelligence, said in an interview with Military Times over the weekend that Russia had massed 92,000 troops near Ukraine and could launch an attack from several directions, including from Belarus, in late January or early February.

Amid the tensions, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said on Monday it had conducted exercises in the northern Zhytomyr region bordering Belarus.

Russia has maintained close political and military relations with Belarus, and the two countries held large-scale joint war games in September.

Peskov sought to turn the tables on Ukraine and the West, arguing that expressions of concern from the United States and its allies might “disguise the aggressive intentions in Kiev to try to solve the problem of the southeast by force.”

He accused the Ukrainian military of increasingly firing across the tense line of contact in the east, and added that Moscow was deeply concerned about the United States and other NATO countries supplying arms to Ukraine.

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“The number of provocations is increasing, and those provocations were carried out using weapons that NATO countries sent to Ukraine,” Peskov said in a conference call with journalists. “We are watching her with great concern.”

Russia has thrown its weight behind a separatist rebellion in eastern Ukraine’s industrial region known as Donbas, which has left more than 14,000 people dead. But Moscow has repeatedly denied any presence of its forces in eastern Ukraine.

On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also criticized what he called “hostile rhetoric” by Ukrainian military officials, accusing it of “reflecting a desire to make provocations and turn the conflict into a hot stage.”

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba rejected Russian allegations about Ukraine’s plans to launch an attack on Donbass as part of “disinformation of Moscow”.

“Let me state this officially: Ukraine is not planning a military offensive in Donbass,” Kuleba said on Twitter. “We are committed to seeking political and diplomatic solutions to the conflict.”

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In a strongly worded statement, Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) sharply criticized the US State Department for spreading “absolute lies” about an alleged Russian buildup near Ukraine.

“Americans paint a horrific picture of the Russian tank fleet crushing Ukrainian cities. It is astonishing to see how quickly a respected foreign policy agency is turning into a mouthpiece for false propaganda,” she said in a statement on Monday.

SVR claimed that it was Ukraine that reinforced its forces near Russia and Belarus.

Russia’s spy agency also accused the United States and the European Union of encouraging a “sense of let-go” in Ukraine, and compared the situation to Western expressions of support for Georgia before the 2008 Russia-Georgia war.

Russia defeated the Georgian army in the short conflict that erupted when Georgia attempted to regain control of a Russian-backed separatist province. Moscow then re-established the independence of the two breakaway provinces of Georgia after the war.

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Yuras Karamano in Kiev, Ukraine contributed to this report.

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