Kremlin denies plans to invade Ukraine, alleges NATO threats
MOSCOW (AP) — The Kremlin on Friday rebuffed allegations that a buildup of its troops near Ukraine reflects Moscow's aggressive intentions, saying Russia needs to ensure its security in response to alleged NATO threats. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed Western media reports that Moscow has intentions to invade Ukraine as a “hollow and unfounded attempt to incite tensions.” “Russia doesn't threaten anyone,” Peskov said during a conference call with reporters. “The movement of troops on our territory shouldn't be a cause for anyone's concern.
Russian officials in recent days have issued an unusual number of claims of what they consider fearsome provocations from neighboring Ukraine, mirroring the spurious expressions of concern that have previously served as a pretext to military deployments under the auspices of self defense.
Through a series of public statements and posts through its state news services, leaders in Russia on Monday presented the unified case that Ukraine was needlessly deploying its military forces to challenge Russia’s sovereignty and its nearby interests, that rising concern in the West of military action by Moscow represents only an attempt by Kyiv to mask its own intentions to do so, that the Western-backed peace process for the conflict in Ukraine is broken and that Kyiv’s allies in Europe and North America are not prepared to back up their pledges of support.
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The claims, many of them roundly unfounded, follow widespread concern that Russia has dramatically escalated deployments of its forces around Ukraine. Recent operations in Belarus by Russian special operations forces and paratroops north of the Ukraine border that were ostensibly meant to maintain stability there in reality align with the Kremlin’s established pattern of influencing Minsk and preparing for war. Reports have emerged Russia has also mobilized the forces it deployed to the Crimean Peninsula at southern Ukraine earlier this year.
Several Ukrainian officials have expressed specific concerns about an imminent military action, including the chief of its military defense service, who told Military Times over the weekend he believes Russia will invade before January.
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Retired Army Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, whose last command oversaw all U.S. soldiers in Europe, calls Ukraine’s latest concerns “very credible.”
“The Kremlin is banking on Berlin, Brussels, Paris, London and Washington, D.C., discounting it as a possibility,” Hodges, now with the Center for European Policy Analysis, wrote on Twitter. “The Kremlin seeks to present Ukraine to the West as a ‘failed state’ and to suppress any willingness by the West to support Ukraine if invaded.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday that reports in Western media about Moscow threatening Ukraine represent “a targeted information campaign” to present “Russia as the side that threatens” the peace process regarding the seven-year war in Ukraine’s eastern reaches, a region known as the Donbas. The reports represent “camouflage to cover up” what he called Ukraine’s own aggressive moves.
He also claimed that the “number of provocations” from Ukraine “is growing significantly,” particularly employing unspecified weapons systems NATO have provided.
“We are watching this with great concern,” Peskov said, according to a translation of his remarks, citing what Moscow considers “the significance of extremist politicians in Ukraine.”
Russia has placed heavy emphasis on Ukraine’s admission its forces employed Turkish-made drones to defend its forces in the Donbas against Russian artillery – a move Moscow claims violates the fragile peace deal known as the Minsk Agreement.
Video: NATO warns Russia over Ukraine troop build-up (Reuters)
Russian state news on Monday also claimed without specifics that Ukraine has employed against Russian forces the Javelin anti-tank missiles provided to Kyiv under the Trump administration. Ukrainian Brig. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, the chief of military defense, made a similar statement to Military Times in his interview but also did not provide specifics. Though stored in western Ukraine far from the contact line, Ukraine may use the powerful weapons where it chooses, U.S. officials have said previously. However, Washington has pressured Kyiv to employ them principally as a deterrent.
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If U.S. officials were being honest with themselves, they would recognize that more military assistance to the Ukrainians is unlikely to do much of anything except prompt Russia to retaliate in kind. And if the U.S. genuinely cares about Ukraine, they will look their Ukrainian colleagues in the eye and deliver them a tough message: As the weaker party in this dispute, your only viable option is to stop stalling on implementation of the Minsk II agreement and come to a diplomatic settlement. There is no sense in holding out any longer. The U.S. won't be getting into a war with a nuclear-armed Russia on Kyiv's behalf. Daniel R.
Ukraine’s embassy in Washington, D.C., declined to comment on its military’s use of Javelins. It deferred to a statement from Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba earlier in the day blasting “a surge in Russian disinformation.”
“Let me state it officially: Ukraine does not plan a military offensive in the Donbas. We are devoted to seeking political & diplomatic solutions to the conflict,” Kuleba wrote in a series of tweets. “Ukraine keeps working hard to revive the Normandy format with Germany and France as mediators. We call on Russia to engage constructively in these peace efforts instead of undermining them.”
“At the same time, Ukrainian diplomacy continues working on strengthening Ukraine’s defense capabilities in order to deter and discourage Russia from further aggressive actions,” he wrote.
Other claims from Moscow on Monday match U.S. assessments that Russia is attempting to overwhelm Ukraine by mobilizing forces on almost all fronts. It has done so with military forces on the strategically critical Crimean Peninsula that stayed behind after the end of planned military exercises earlier this year, alarming Pentagon officials at the time. The Defense Department has similarly expressed concern about a steady buildup of Russian forces along Ukraine’s east in recent weeks.
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The Russian buildup of troops near Ukraine has triggered the worst fears of a major Russian military incursion since 2014. Fears of invasion are greater now than at any time since Moscow first seized Crimea in 2014.
Russia has also prompted Ukraine to deploy forces to its northern border with Belarus – among Russia’s remaining allies – for snap exercises in response to the new Russian military deployments there. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry described “tactical exercises with combat shooting and a paratrooper drop” in Zhytomyr Oblast bordering Belarus in a report on Monday.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov blamed Ukraine on Monday for “excessively inflamed and very dangerous” rhetoric that he said “apparently reflects the desire to carry out a provocation and bring the conflict into a hot phase,” according to a translation of his remarks. He observed that he believes Germany and France – key players in the ongoing peace process for Ukraine – do not appear committed to implementing its terms.
Other American officials and leaders believe Russia is positioning itself for a violent move on Ukraine.
Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the influential House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement over the weekend he was particularly concerned about the reports of Russia’s recent mobilizations paired with similar statements from its leaders.
“When considered against the backdrop of the Kremlin’s increasingly bellicose rhetoric – and its dangerous and irresponsible actions on land, at sea, and in the air, and space – the potential for a new, perhaps more violent, offensive against Ukraine cannot be discounted,” the California Democrat said. He added that Russian President Vladimir Putin “has made it clear that he sees a democratic Ukraine as a threat and, after his annexation of Crimea and assaults on Donbas, he may continue chipping away at its territory and sovereignty.”
Other officials in Russia, while denying claims of unilateral military action, seemed to acknowledge its history of doing so.
Konstantin Kosachev, vice chairman of the Federation Council, Russia’s upper house of parliament, and chairman of its Foreign Affairs Committee said Monday that Russian forces have not and will never be used in southeastern Ukraine.
However, he added that – as in Georgia in 2008 – the presence of the Russian military may be necessary for “a peace enforcement operation.”
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