Russia denies looking for pretext to invade Ukraine – News-Herald

By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV and YURAS KARMANAU

MOSCOW — Russia’s top diplomat angrily dismissed US allegations that Moscow was preparing a pretext to invade Ukraine, as Russian troops amassed near the Ukrainian border launched new drills on Monday.

The White House said on Friday that US intelligence officials had concluded that Russia had already deployed agents to rebel-held eastern Ukraine to carry out acts of sabotage there and blame them on Ukraine in a “false flag operation” to create a pretext for a possible invasion. .

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called the US claim “complete disinformation”.

He reiterated that Russia expects this week a written response from the United States and its allies to Moscow’s request for binding guarantees that NATO will not embrace Ukraine or any other ex-Soviet country, or will not station its forces and arms there.

Washington and its allies have firmly rejected Moscow’s demands during last week’s Russian-American talks in Geneva and a related NATO-Russia meeting in Brussels, held as around 100,000 Russian troops with tanks and other heavy weapons are massed near Ukraine in what the West fears could be a prelude to an invasion.

Amid the troop buildup, Russia has held a series of war games in Ukraine’s border regions in recent weeks. On Monday, the army announced the launch of another exercise involving armored units stationed in western Russia and including 300 combat vehicles.

A delegation of US senators is visiting Ukraine to highlight US support for the country.

“Our bipartisan delegation to Congress sends a clear message to the global community: The United States steadfastly supports our Ukrainian partners in defending their sovereignty and in the face of continued Russian aggression,” said Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire. in a report.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, said after the delegation met with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that if Russia invades Ukraine “we will impose crippling economic sanctions, but more importantly, we will give the Ukrainian people the weapons , the deadly weapons he needs to defend himself”. their lives and livelihoods.

Speaking on Monday during a visit to Kyiv, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock warned that “any further escalation will come at a high price for the Russian regime – economic, political and strategic” – and stressed the need to continue the negotiations.

“We are ready to have a serious dialogue with Russia, because diplomacy is the only way to defuse this highly dangerous situation,” she said.

Baerbock said Germany had offered to send cybersecurity specialists to Ukraine to help investigate last week’s cyberattacks, which Ukrainian authorities blamed on Russia. At the same time, she noted that Germany has not changed its refusal to supply her with weapons.

“We have made it clear that we will do everything to prevent the crisis from escalating,” she said.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said during a visit to Spain that “we expect clear steps from Russia to de-escalate the situation”, adding that “military aggression against Ukraine would have serious political and economic”.

Ukrainian officials have warned that Russia could launch an attack from various directions, including from the territory of its Belarusian ally.

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who is increasingly counting on Kremlin support amid Western sanctions against a brutal crackdown on nationwide protests, said Russia and Belarus will hold massive military drills next month.

Lukashenko said the maneuvers will be carried out on Belarus’ western border and also in the south of the country, where it borders Ukraine. Belarusian Security Council Secretary Alexander Volfovich said on Monday that Russian troops had already started arriving in the country for the exercise, according to the BELTA news agency.

Russia has denied plans to attack its neighbor and in turn accused Ukrainian leaders of developing plans to use force to regain control of territories held by Russian-backed rebels in the east from Ukraine. The Ukrainian authorities have denied it.

Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula to Ukraine in 2014 after the ousting of the pro-Moscow Ukrainian leader and has also backed a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine. More than 14,000 people have been killed there in nearly eight years of fighting.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that Moscow will take unspecified “military-technical measures” if the West blocks its demands.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, who led the Russian delegation to the talks with the United States in Geneva, said last week that he would not “confirm or rule out” the possibility of Russia sending military means in Cuba and Venezuela if the United States and its allies do not restrict their military activities to Russia’s doorstep. US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan called the comments bluster.

Asked on Monday about the possibility of a deployment of Russian missiles in Cuba and Venezuela, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that “Russia is considering how to ensure its security in the context of the current situation”.

___

Yuras Karmanau reported from Kyiv, Ukraine. Frank Jordans in Berlin and Aritz Parra in Madrid contributed to this report.

Christi C. Elwood