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Putin: West escalating situation in Ukraine, providing Kiev with lethal weapons

President Vladimir Putin of Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the West of escalating the situation in Ukraine by providing Kiev with “lethal modern weapons” and holding drills in the Black Sea region.

"Our Western partners are escalating the situation by supplying Kiev with lethal modern weapons and conducting provocative maneuvers in the Black Sea," Putin said in a speech to Russian Foreign Ministry officials in Moscow on Thursday, adding that Western bombers are flying "20 km from our border."

The Russian leader said Moscow has been "constantly” raising concerns about the US naval exercises in the strategic region, but the West is taking Russia's warnings lightly.

"We're constantly voicing our concerns about this, talking about red lines, but we understand our partners - how shall I put it mildly - have a very superficial attitude to all our warnings and talk of red lines," Putin added.

Ukraine has claimed there are nearly 100,000 Russian soldiers near its border; and the United States has issued warnings over a possible attack by Russia.

Moscow categorically has rejected the possibility of any attack, saying Washington is involved in aggressive moves in the Black Sea, where Ukraine and the United States held military drills during the weekend.

The Russian Defense Ministry said last week that the US is setting up a multinational group of armed forces close to Russia's eastern border in the Black Sea region.

The ministry said the US Navy's guided missile destroyer Porter, tanker vessel John Lenthall, and command ship Mount Whitney were deployed to the Black Sea to take part in multinational drills conducted by the US’ European Command.

The Russian president harshly denounced the "provocative" move and said unscheduled NATO drills in the strategic Black Sea region posed a serious challenge for Moscow.

President Putin and other top Russian officials have already warned the expansion of NATO activities near Russia’s borders is a "red line" for Moscow. NATO has expressed determination to reinforce the security of member states close to Russia following what it claims to be Moscow's “annexation” of Crimea and its backing for pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba confirmed in a press briefing on Thursday that Kiev was seeking more military aid from the West, claiming, "Russia's aggressiveness, both diplomatic and military, has increased considerably in recent weeks.”

Kuleba said that after his visits to Washington and Brussels "work is under way to develop a comprehensive package for the containment of Russia."

The Ukrainian diplomat added that Kiev is in negotiations with the West for "the supply of additional defense weapons for our army."

Relations between Moscow and Kiev have been strained since the conflict erupted in Ukraine's eastern region of Donbass between Ukrainian government forces and ethnic Russians in 2014.

The US, the European Union, and Ukraine claim that Russia has a hand in the conflict. Moscow strongly rejects the allegation. The Black Sea peninsula of Crimea voted in a referendum to fall under Russian sovereignty that year and more than 90 percent of the participants in the plebiscite voted in favor of unification.

‘West using migrant crisis against Belarus’

During his speech on Thursday, Putin underlined that the West is using a migrant crisis on Belarus-Poland border against Moscow's close ally, Minsk.

Tensions have been mounting in eastern Europe in recent weeks after the European Union accused Belarus of triggering the migrant crisis on its border by flying in thousands of asylum-seekers and pushing them to try to cross into Poland, an accusation Minsk has adamantly dismissed.

Some in the EU, including Poland, have said that Moscow is also behind the crisis.

"Brussels needs to understand that the decreasing of military-political tensions is not only in Russian interests, but in those of the whole of Europe, and even the world," Putin said.

Poland has closed its border with Belarus as the migrants are stranded in freezing temperatures on the border. It has also deployed hundreds of troops to the frontier, put up a fence topped with barbed wire, and approved the construction of a wall.

President Putin has said his country is fully prepared to help resolve the migrant crisis if necessary, also denying accusations that Moscow has helped Belarus orchestrate the crisis on the border, where some 4,000 desperate migrants are stranded.

Kremlin: Russia not ‘culprit of all problems’

Meanwhile, the Kremlin said earlier in the day that Europe should not blame Russia for "all problems” occurring across the continent.

"Russia has an interest in everybody in Europe finally coming to their senses and stopping considering Russia the culprit of all problems," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Peskov added that Europe should instead "address the primary sources of the problems that are currently suffocating Europe."

His remarks came a day after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned Russia against any "military adventurism" on the borders of Ukraine and EU member Poland.

"Recently there have been a lot of hysterical publications in Britain," Peskov said. "Russia is not waging any hybrid wars.”

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