World Ukraine: US and other NATO members pledge support while walking fine line with Russia
Ukraine pleads for rapid NATO entry with Russia on its doorstep
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin may have more to discuss with his NATO allies than just whether to extend the mission in Afghanistan, as Ukraine, facing mounting pressure from Russia, reportedly seeks fast-track entry into the alliance. © Provided by Washington Examiner Russia has continued to mass soldiers along the southeast border of Ukraine and increasingly militarizes Crimea, which Russian President Vladimir Putin seized from Ukraine in 2014. In the years since, NATO has worked to bolster its presence along the eastern flank to deter Russian aggression.
The entire 30-member NATO alliance was united in its concern about thenear Crimea and along Ukraine's borders, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in Brussels, Belgium, on Wednesday.
"What was striking today was every single ally expressed the same concerns," said Blinken, speaking alongside US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
Ukraine Tells Russia to Pull Back as U.S. Warns of Cost
Ukraine urged Russia to pull back troops from its border as Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned the U.S. would impose “costs” on any Kremlin aggression. © Photographer: Anatolii Stepanov/AFP/Getty Images Ukrainian serviceman checks an armored personal carrier (APC). Tensions between the two neighbors are the highest since the end of large-scale fighting in the conflict that began after President Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea in 2014. The war over the status of two breakaway regions in Ukraine’s east has already cost more than 13,000 lives.
Ukraine estimates that Russia has amassed as many as 50,000 troops in the region, while the current US assessment is that the Russian military has moved more than 40 battalion tactical groups into the border area, which could total up 40,000 troops. It is the largest buildup of Russian troops near Ukraine since 2014, when Russian forces invaded the country and occupied the Crimean Peninsula.
"It is a part of a broader pattern of Russian aggressive action, which raises very serious concerns," said Stoltenberg. "Allies fully support Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity and we call on Russia to de-escalate immediately, stop its pattern of aggressive provocations and respect its international commitments."
Quick guide to Russia-Ukraine military tensions
What you need to know about Russia's troop build-up around eastern Ukraine.Russia's intentions are far from clear, but here's a quick guide to the latest developments.
On Tuesday, Gen. Tod Wolters, head of the US European Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee the latest intelligence showed that a "very sizable" Russian ground force as well as "notable" increased air and naval forces had moved into the Ukraine border region and Crimea. "It is of the size and scale and scope that is of great concern, and it mirrors the size and scope and scale of the infiltration of forces that occurred back in 2014."
In addition, Russia has moved SA-22 air defense missile units into the region, according to a US official tracking Russian movements. That system is designed to protect Russian troops and critical military and civilian targets against air attack.
"We call upon Russia to cease their provocations and to be more transparent about this recent activity," said Austin, noting that the US has provided Ukraine with nonlethal materials, weapons and trainers, and that he expects that to continue.
Russia Labels U.S. an 'Adversary' As Tensions Rise Over Troop Buildup by Ukraine
Sergei Ryabkov's comments come after Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Moscow about acting "recklessly."In a departure from the Kremlin's usual description of the U.S. as a "partner"—however fraught that partnership might be—Sergei Ryabkov's comments follow a warning by Secretary of State Antony Blinken that "there would be consequences" if Moscow "acts recklessly" in Ukraine.
The stark warning about Russia's growing military presence near its southwestern neighbor comes a day after President JoeVladimir Putin. Biden voiced US concerns about Russian forces, per a statement from the White House.
Pentagon officials say the current intelligence does not indicate that this land force is prepared for offensive operations in the next few days, because there is no evidence of the logistics, spare parts, fuel and medical capability that would need to be pre-positioned. But the concern remains that there are also no indicators of Russia reducing its forces or signaling a de-escalation. And events on the ground can change quickly, officials caution, noting that the intelligence assessments typically project out for only a few days at a time.
US reconnaissance aircraft are continuing to fly over the Black Sea to gather intelligence about Russian moves. The US assesses the Russians are likely to begin their own maritime war games in the area in the coming days.
The US Navy filed initial diplomatic paperwork with Turkey for permission to send two warships into the Black Sea in the coming days but has decided not to send the ships into the sensitive region, according to a defense official with direct knowledge. The destroyers are being kept out of the Black Sea for now, as the move is seen as too escalatory, US officials say. Instead, the ships will remain in the nearby Aegean Sea area, ready to respond if needed.
"We will remain vigilant," one official says.
Russia's deputy foreign minister, Sergey Ryabkov, warned the United States on Tuesday that it is better for the US Navy to stay away from the Russian Federation and Crimea, stating that the risks of incidents are very high, according to state news agency RIA.
The United States "must understand that the risks of certain incidents are very high. We have already observed something similar in a completely different water area this year. We warn the United States that it is better for them to stay away from Crimea, from our Black Sea coast. For their own good," Ryabkov told reporters.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told CNN's Matthew Chance that the US is a "good friend" of Ukraine, but that Biden "must do more," to deter Russia and help bring this conflict to an end.
Ukraine Says Russia Withdrawing Troops from Border Will Not End Conflict .
Kyiv has said that Moscow "still owes an explanation" for Russia's military buildup by its borders which raised tensions.The comments by Dmytro Kuleba on Friday came as Russia's defense ministry said troops who had been conducting drills near the border with Ukraine, had started to return to their bases.