Moscow responded to the military moves by the United States and NATO on Tuesday, blaming Washington for increasing tensions and announcing new military exercises in the west of the country involving short-range ballistic missile units.
“We are observing these actions of the United States with profound concern,” Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said Tuesday.
Russia’s Defense Ministry released a video showing Iskander short-range ballistic missile crews entering field positions, the latest in a series of drills that have added to the growing tension in the region.
As the military posturing continued, President Joe Biden held a video conference call with European leaders on Monday evening, hoping to signal to the Kremlin that Western nations were united and that the costs of any military aggression would be severe.
The leaders discussed “preparations to impose massive consequences and severe economic costs on Russia for such actions as well as to reinforce security on NATO’s eastern flank,” according to a White House readout of the 80-minute call.
“I had a very, very, very good meeting — total unanimity with all the European leaders,” Biden told reporters afterward.
European Union foreign ministers issued a statement repeating their call for Russia to de-escalate tensions, before a meeting in Paris this week between the leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine.
In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Parliament on Tuesday that there was agreement among European leaders to “respond in unison to any attack on Ukraine.”
“If the worst happens and the destructive firepower of the Russian army were to engulf Ukraine’s towns and cities, I shudder to contemplate the tragedy that would ensue,” he said.
His government said it would send the foreign minister, Liz Truss, to visit Ukraine next week in a show of solidarity.
The mobilisation — both military and diplomatic — by Western countries comes in response to what they say is a buildup of Russian forces larger than any seen since the end of the Cold War. Ukraine’s military intelligence service calculates that 127,000 Russian troops are massed near its borders, and thousands more are expected to arrive next month in neighbouring Belarus, along with tanks, artillery and fighter planes.
Moscow has described the deployment to Belarus as a military exercise, but Western leaders worry that it could be a pretext for an incursion into Ukraine.
John F. Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said that the 8,500 US soldiers placed on “high alert” would provide assurance to American allies in Eastern Europe who fear that Russia’s plans for Ukraine could extend to the Baltics and other countries in NATO’s eastern flank.
The crisis has sparked deep unease in the region because of Moscow’s demands that NATO withdraw from much of Eastern Europe — essentially calling for a return to the Cold War order, before Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin agreed in 1997 that former Soviet states and Warsaw bloc nations could choose whether to seek membership in NATO.
Since then, the alliance has roughly doubled in size.
For its part, Russia has said it has no intention of invading Ukraine and has blamed the West for stoking tensions. But President Vladimir Putin has been incensed for years by NATO expansion, and his brinkmanship around Ukraine has seized Washington’s attention.
Despite the looming threat and the failure of weeks of high-level diplomatic talks to defuse the crisis, Ukraine’s government has sought to project a sense of calm. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, speaking after a meeting of government officials on Monday, said that “the situation is under control” and told the public, “There is no reason to panic.”
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