Sunday, 22 May, 2022

Fears mount over Ukraine crisis

NATO bolsters defences, Kremlin slams the move

BRUSSELS: NATO said Monday it was sending jets and ships to bolster its eastern European defences, as the US and EU looked to coordinate a tough response to Russia if it invades Ukraine, reports AFP.

Tensions have soared over Russia's deployment of some 100,000 troops and heavy armour at its neighbour's borders, despite the Kremlin's insistence it is not planning a new incursion.

The United States and Britain ordered diplomats' families to leave Ukraine -- but both Kyiv and the European Union said the moves appeared premature amid divided views over how imminent any attack could be.

Top US diplomat Antony Blinken was to dial in to a meeting of EU counterparts in Brussels to brief them on his talks Friday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, where the two sides failed to make a breakthrough but agreed to keep working to ease tensions.

The US is trying to marshal its allies to prepare an unprecedented package of sanctions for Moscow if its sends in more of its forces -- and European Union members insist they could hit the Kremlin with "massive consequences" within days if needed.

The US-led NATO alliances said its members were placing troops "on standby" and sending ships and jets to bolster eastern Europe's defences in response to the Russian buildup, pointing to recent decisions by Denmark, Spain and the Netherlands to mobilise forces.

"NATO will continue to take all necessary measures to protect and defend all allies," NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said.

The Kremlin accused the alliance of ramping up tensions through "information hysteria" and "concrete actions", adding the risk of an offensive by Ukrainian troops against pro-Russia separatists was "very high."

EU foreign ministers will sound out Blinken over a written response Washington has committed to provide to Moscow this week after the Kremlin laid down a series of security demands that would stop Ukraine joining NATO and roll back the alliance's forces in eastern Europe.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin on Monday accused the United States and NATO of ramping up tensions after the US-led military bloc said it was bolstering Europe's eastern defences amid the Ukraine crisis.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Washington and NATO were escalating tensions through "information hysteria" and "concrete actions," adding that the risk of an offensive by Ukrainian troops against Moscow-backed separatists was "very high."

"We live in an aggressive environment," Peskov told reporters during a conference call, adding that President Vladimir Putin was taking "necessary measures" to protect the country.

NATO said earlier Monday it had put forces on standby and sent ships and fighter jets to bolster Europe's eastern defences as tensions soar over Russia's military buildup around Ukraine.

The West accuses Moscow of threatening to invade Ukraine by massing over 100,000 troops on its border. Russia denies it is planning an incursion and accuses NATO of advancing towards its borders.

Peskov said Monday that Ukraine was preparing an offensive in the east of the country where Kyiv troops have been fighting pro-Russia separatists since 2014.

"The Ukrainian authorities are concentrating a huge amount of forces and means on the border with the self-proclaimed republics," he said.

"The nature of this concentration speaks of preparations for an offensive," he said, adding the risk of such an operation now "is very high, higher than before."

Several rounds of talks between Russia and the West have so far failed to ease tensions.

The alliance is now preparing a proposal for further talks with Russia after the Kremlin issued a raft of demands that would see NATO stop Ukraine and Georgia joining and roll back its forces in eastern Europe.

NATO insists it will not negotiate over its "core principles" including defending all allies and allowing partners to chose their own path.

Peskov said Moscow was waiting to receive the written response from Washington and would decide on its further course of action after that.

He did not rule out further talks including new talks between Putin and US President Joe Biden.

"Nothing can be excluded if such a need arises," he said.