U.S. top diplomat warns Moscow of consequences amid Russian troop buildup near Ukraine

Secretary of State Antony Blinken gives a press briefing at the end of a NATO Foreign Ministers’ meeting at the Alliance’s headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, March 24, 2021.
Olivier Hoslet | Reuters

WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday he was concerned about the number of Russian troops amassing on the Ukrainian border and warned Moscow that “there will be consequences” for aggresive behavior.

“I have to tell you I have real concerns about Russia’s actions on the borders of Ukraine. There are more Russian forces massed on those borders than at any time since 2014 when Russia first invaded,” Blinken said during an interview on “Meet the Press” Sunday.

“President Biden’s been very clear about this. If Russia acts recklessly, or aggressively, there will be costs, there will be consequences,” Blinken said, adding that the United States was discussing the unfolding aggression on the border with allies and partners.

On Friday, Blinken spoke to his German and French counterparts in part, about “Russian provocations against Ukraine.”

Last week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the Biden administration was consulting with NATO allies about the uptick in tensions and cease-fire violations.

“The United States is increasingly concerned by recent escalating Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine, including Russian troop movements on Ukraine’s border,” she told reporters on Thursday, calling the matter “deeply concerning.”

In recent weeks, Moscow has increased its military presence along the Ukrainian border, sparking concerns in the West of a budding military conflict between the two neighboring countries. The Russian Defense Ministry has said it is conducting more than 4,000 military drills this month to inspect the readiness of its forces.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy visits positions of armed forces near the frontline with Russian-backed separatists during his working trip in Donbass region, Ukraine April 8, 2021.
Ukrainian Presidential Press Service | Handout | via Reuters

Last month, the Ukrainian government said four of its soldiers were killed by Russian shelling in Donbass. Moscow has denied it has forces in eastern Ukraine. Since 2014, Kyiv has been battling Russian-backed separatists in a conflict that has left at least 13,000 people dead, according to U.N. figures.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday that Moscow will move its forces across Russian territory at its discretion and called the escalating tensions “unprecedented.” He also suggested that Ukraine was on the brink of civil war, which would threaten Russia’s security.

“The Kremlin has fears that a civil war could resume in Ukraine. And if a civil war, a full-scale military action, resumes near our borders that would threaten the Russian Federation’s security,” Peskov said, according to the Associated Press . “The ongoing escalation of tensions is quite unprecedented.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Ukraine of resuming “dangerous provocative actions” on a call Friday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, according to a readout from the Kremlin. The Kremlin has previously said that it is concerned about the rising tensions in eastern Ukraine and that it feared Kyiv’s forces were attempting to restart a conflict.

Last week, the Pentagon reiterated its calls for the Kremlin to explain its decision to mobilize troops to the border.

“The Russians are engaged in conducting a military buildup along the eastern border of Ukraine and in Crimea, which still belongs to Ukraine, and that is of concern. And we want to know more about what it is they’re doing and what their intentions are because we don’t believe it’s conducive to security and stability there.,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters Friday.

Later this week, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin will meet in person with NATO Secretary Jens Stoltenberg at the alliance headquarters in Brussels.

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