Brussels, Apr 13 (EFE).- NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday demanded that Moscow “immediately” halt its military buildup on its border with Ukraine, adding that the concentration of forces there is “unjustified” and deeply concerning.
Stoltenberg said at a joint press conference with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitro Kuleba that NATO’s support for Kiev was “unwavering,” adding that “Russia must end this military buildup in and around Ukraine, stop its provocations and de-escalate immediately.”
“Russia has moved thousands of combat troops to Ukraine’s borders, the largest massing of Russian troops since the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014. Over the last days, several Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in eastern Ukraine,” he said.
The Norwegian NATO chief also said that Moscow has not provided an explanation for its buildup and he said he regretted Russia’s decision not to participate in a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe that Kiev requested last Saturday so that the Kremlin could explain the force increase.
A total of 26 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed by separatists backed by Russia in Ukraine’s Donbas region so far this year, despite a ceasefire that has been in effect in eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine’s Kuleba participated in a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Committee it had requested in Brussels on Tuesday and also met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Stoltenberg also said that NATO did not recognize Russia’s annexation of the Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, noting that the alliance is helping Kiev strengthen its military capabilities, is training Ukrainian troops and is participating in joint military exercises with Ukraine in the Black Sea region.
Last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Kiev’s entry into NATO is the “only way” to put an end to the ongoing low-level conflict in the Donbas region, and Stoltenberg said that it was up to the 30 NATO allies to decide if and when Ukraine was prepared to join the alliance, noting that “nobody else” has the right to try and interfere in that process, referring to Moscow.
Kuleba, meanwhile, said that Kiev’s joining NATO is only a “matter of time,” adding that Ukraine “does not want war” and is “dedicated to diplomatic and political means” to resolve any conflicts, and going on to state that Moscow must understand that his country belongs to “the world of democracies, the Western world.”
He said that, in contrast to its unexpected move to annex the Crimea in 2014, “Russia can no longer surprise anyone. Ukraine and our friends will remain vigilant. We’re not wasting time. If Moscow makes any imprudent move or starts a new spiral of violence, it will be costly in all respects.”
Meanwhile, the White House said that President Joe Biden spoke on Tuesday with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, discussing a number of regional and global issues, including “the intent of the United States and Russia to pursue a strategic stability dialogue on a range of arms control and emerging security issues, building on the extension of the New START Treaty.”
Biden also told Putin that the US “will act firmly in defense of its national interests in response to Russia’s actions, such as cyber intrusions and election interference,” going on to emphasize Washington’s “unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
The US leader “reaffirmed his goal of building a stable and predictable relationship with Russia consistent with US interests, and proposed a summit meeting in a third country in the coming months to discuss the full range of issues facing the United States and Russia,” the White House said.