US, Russia dig in heels over Ukraine as tensions mount
KYIV, Ukraine (AP):
The United States and Russia dug in their heels on Wednesday over Russia’s military build-up on Ukraine’s border, with no sign either will relent from entrenched positions that have raised fears of a Russian invasion and a new war in Europe.
Ahead of critical talks on Friday between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the two sides appeared no closer to any compromise that might ease tensions and avert the threat of a Russian invasion. Ukraine, meanwhile, said it was prepared for the worst and would survive whatever difficulties come its way.
On a visit to Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, Blinken accused Russia of planning to reinforce the more than 100,000 troops it has deployed along the Ukrainian border, and suggested that that number could double “on relatively short order”.
Blinken did not elaborate, but Russia has sent an unspecified number of troops from the country’s far east to its ally Belarus, which also shares a border with Ukraine, for major war games next month.
Blinken also reiterated Washington’s demands for Russia to de-escalate the situation by removing its forces from the border area, something that Moscow has flatly refused to do. And, Blinken said he wouldn’t give Russia the written response it expects to its demands when he and Lavrov meet in Geneva.
Meanwhile, a top Russian diplomat said Moscow would not back down from its insistence that the US formally ban Ukraine from ever joining NATO and reduce its and the alliance’s military presence in Eastern Europe. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Moscow had no intention of invading Ukraine, but that its demands for security guarantees were non-negotiable.
PRETEXT FOR INVADING
The US and its allies have said the Russian demands are non-starters, that Russia knows they are, and that Russian President Vladimir Putin is using them in part to create a pretext for invading Ukraine, which has strong ethnic and historical ties to Russia. The former Soviet republic aspires to join the alliance, though it has little hope of doing so in the foreseeable future.