The Kremlin says the United States and its allies are escalating tensions through “information hysteria” and announcing plans to boost NATO troops in Eastern Europe, warning that the risk of an offensive by Ukrainian troops against pro-Russia forces in the country’s volatile east is “very high.”
Speaking during a conference call on Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said information coming from the West regarding the situation around Ukraine was filled with “hysteria” and “laced with lies,” and stressed that the probability of military conflict in eastern Ukraine being initiated by Kiev was higher than ever.
Peskov said Ukraine has deployed a large number of troops near the borders of breakaway regions controlled by pro-Russia forces, which, he said, shows Kiev’s preparedness to launch an attack against them.
“The Ukrainian authorities are concentrating a huge amount of forces and means on the border with the self-proclaimed republics,” the Kremlin spokesman told reporters. “The nature of this concentration speaks of preparations for an offensive. The risk of such an operation now is very high, higher than before.”
Peskov said, “We live in an aggressive environment,” adding that Russian President Vladimir Putin was taking "necessary measures" to protect the country.
Earlier in the day, NATO said it was putting forces on standby and reinforcing Eastern Europe with more ships and fighter jets in response to Russia's military build-up at Ukraine's borders.
Western governments accuse Russia of planning an invasion of Ukraine. Moscow rejects the allegation and insists that its border deployments are defensive in nature.
The US and NATO's latest provocations against Russia come while American and Russian diplomats have failed to make a major breakthrough in talks to resolve the crisis over Ukraine, although they agreed to continue the talks. Russia has demanded legally binding guarantees from NATO that it will halt its eastward expansion and return to its 1997 borders. It also demands that the military alliance rule out admitting Ukraine as a member.
‘Russia to respond if US boosts troops in Eastern Europe’
Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted a senior Russian lawmaker as saying on Monday that Moscow will "respond appropriately" if the United States deploys more troops in Eastern Europe and the Baltic countries.
Andrei Kartapolov, who heads the Russian parliament's defense committee, made the warning after the New York Times reported that US President Joe Biden was weighing deploying thousands of troops to NATO allies in the region amid tensions between Moscow and the West over the thorny issue of Ukraine.
Kartapolov also raised the alarm over the US-led military alliance’s expansion in Eastern Europe and called on Washington to avoid deeper tensions.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said a day earlier that the US and its European allies are prepared to make a “united response” against Russia if it invades Ukraine.
Washington and its allies have been harping on about, what they claim is, Moscow's ill-intentioned plans for Ukraine since 2014, when a wave of protests overthrew Ukraine's democratically-elected pro-Moscow government and replaced it with a Western-leaning administration.
A crisis followed after the majority of people in Ukraine's Donetsk and Lugansk regions refused to accept the new changes and took up arms against Ukrainian troops. Kiev and the Western countries accuse Moscow of having a hand in the crisis. Moscow denies the allegations.
EU ready for 'never-seen-before' sanctions against Russia
On Monday, the European Union’s foreign ministers were ambivalent about the idea of imposing sanctions on Russia over the military buildup near its western borders, while Denmark warned that the bloc was ready to impose "never-seen-before" economic sanctions on Moscow if it attacked Ukraine.
"There's no doubt we are ready to react with comprehensive, never-seen-before sanctions if Russia were to invade Ukraine again," Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said as the EU ministers gathered for regular talks in Brussels, declining to specify what sectors would be targeted.
"Russia should know, President Vladimir Putin should know that the price of using provocations and military forces to change borders in Europe will be very, very high... We are ready to undertake the most severe sanctions, also more severe than in 2014."
During the talks in Brussels, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz urged Europe and the United States to think carefully when considering anti-Russia sanctions.
Asked whether cutting Russia off from the SWIFT global messaging system should be an option, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said in Brussels the "hardest stick" may not always be the best way to deal with such a situation.
Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said everything was on the table but also pointed to Austria's dependency on Russia for 40% of its gas. Asked about potential sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany, which is yet to win regulatory approval, he said sanctioning something that is not yet operative was not a credible threat.
Four-way Ukraine talks set for January 26 in Paris: Source
Political advisers from Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany are reportedly scheduled to hold a meeting in Paris on January 26 for a fresh round of talks on resolving the conflict in eastern Ukraine. The development was reported on Monday by a source in the Russian delegation, who also said the four-way talks would take place against the backdrop of the standoff between Russia and the West over Ukraine, as well as reports showing Kiev’s preparations to attack pro-Russia forces in the country’s eastern provinces.