Russia’s ambassador to the US has criticized the West’s shipment of arms to Ukraine, saying the assumption that Moscow would not respond to Kiev’s military moves in fear of NATO is a “very dangerous delusion”.
"NATO states are taking over the Black Sea and Ukrainian territory,” Anatoly Antonov said on a YouTube channel on Saturday.
“There are assumptions, which are voiced here, that certain daredevils or a group of combatants may turn up in Ukraine, who will try to test the strength of Russian defenses, expecting that we will not respond fearing the NATO potential. I would like to say and emphasize unequivocally that it is a very dangerous delusion," he said.
The Russian diplomat stressed that Washington is increasingly expanding the range of weapons delivered to Ukraine with a claim that they are to be used for defensive purposes.
"Militarily speaking, this range of weapons funneled to Ukraine [from the United States] is expanding more and more. The Stinger [man-portable air-defense systems], Javelin [anti-tank weapons] and even our Mi-17 [helicopters] got there," he said.
"They keep saying that these are defensive weapons. But we know what 'defensive weapons' mean, what the US Mk-41 systems are like, which, on the one hand, are certainly defensive, as they are anti-missile systems, but it has already been proven, and the Americans are not concealing now that they can be used for launching intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles," the diplomat underlined.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that the West is escalating the situation in Ukraine by providing Kiev with “lethal modern weapons” and holding drills in the Black Sea region.
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.
President Putin and other top Russian officials have repeatedly warned that 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.
Antonov also said the “hysteria” surrounding the perceived Russian threat to Ukraine, which is being stirred up in the United States, is aimed at justifying the failures of Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky.
"In my opinion, this current hysteria sparked by an alleged Russian threat is a desire to whitewash the failures of the current Ukrainian president," the Russian ambassador to Washington said.
Antonov reiterated that Russia did not intend to attack any country and said the Russian diplomats in the US are open for dialogue on Ukraine.
"We reiterate for the media, political analysts, and the Administration that Russia won’t be attacking anyone," the Russian ambassador stressed.
"If you say that the Minsk agreements are the cornerstone of the solution in Donbass, convey this message directly to the Ukrainian leaders, who have been frequenting here to get support and additional shipments of weapons," he said. "I have a feeling that the Ukrainians here, on the contrary, are being coaxed with words: take action as your cause is right, and if anything happens, we will protect you. However, no one will fight for the Ukrainians."
Earlier in the month, Ukraine claimed there were nearly 100,000 Russian soldiers deployed near its border, and the United States issued warnings over a possible attack by Russia.
Moscow categorically rejected the possibility of an attack, saying Washington is involved in aggressive moves in the Black Sea, where Ukraine and the United States recently held military drills.
Moreover, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Russia was aware of the information campaign unleashed by Western countries to portray Moscow as a threat to Ukraine. He did not rule out that the campaign was a disguise to cover up "aggressive intentions that may take place in Kiev."
27 Russian diplomats to leave US on January 30: Ambassador
Elsewhere in his comments, Antonov announced that 27 Russian diplomats and their family members will be forced out of the United States on January 30, and an equal number of Russian diplomatic staff will leave the country on June 30 next year.
"Our diplomats [in the United States] are being kicked out. On January 30, a large group of my fellow diplomats - 27 people with their families - are leaving us," the ambassador said. "On June 30, a similar number will leave from here.”
Antonov underlined that the problem of visas for Russian diplomats in the US has not yet been solved and their families are being intentionally separated.
"We are facing a serious staff shortage. The spouses of a number of our fellow diplomats have had their accreditation taken away. The children are denied visas. I do not understand what this policy of separating the families of Russian diplomats is aimed at," he added.
The Russian ambassador underlined that the US has not changed its negative attitude towards Russia and continues to regard it as an adversary.
"Almost nothing is changing. The atmosphere here is still poisoned with Russophobia, namely in the media, in Congress, in the administration. And this creates obstacles to building Russian-US relations," Antonov said.
Moscow restricted the hiring of citizens of Russia and third countries by US diplomatic missions after Washington announced anti-Russian sanctions and another expulsion of Russian diplomats in April.
Since August, the US embassy to Russia has been operating by 120 employees, the lowest number in five years.