What are Russian troops doing on the border with Ukraine? ITV News Global Security Editor Rohit Kachroo explains
Thousands of Russian troops who were taking part in exercises near the border are still there, even though the exercises are over - triggering concern from Western allies, including the UK and US, about the potential of a military attack.
Russia's deputy UN ambassador said the Kremlin was not planning to invade Ukraine and never will - "unless we are provoked".
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Friday dismissed the reports as a “hollow and unfounded attempt to incite tensions” and that Russia needs to ensure its security in response to alleged NATO threats. “Russia doesn’t threaten anyone,” Mr Peskov said during a conference call with reporters.
“The movement of troops on our territory shouldn’t be a cause for anyone’s concern."
European Commission spokesman Peter Stano said the bloc is discussing the situation with partners, including the UK and the US, adding that “the information we gathered so far is rather worrying.”
The concerns come almost eight years after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and has supported a separatist insurgency that broke out that year in eastern Ukraine.
Russia has cast its weight behind the separatist insurgency in Ukraine’s east that has left more than 14,000 dead. But Moscow has repeatedly denied any presence of its troops in eastern Ukraine.
But the Ukrainian Defence Ministry complained last week that Russia has stationed 90,000 troops not far from the two countries’ borders and in rebel-controlled areas in Ukraine’s east, after conducting war games in an attempt to exert further pressure on its ex-Soviet neighbor.
It said units of the Russian 41st army have remained in Yelnya, a town about 160 miles north of the Ukrainian border.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken assured the Ukrainian foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, in Washington this week that the America's commitment to the country's security and territorial integrity is “ironclad.” Secretary Blinken said the US did not know Russia’s intentions but that Moscow’s “playbook” in the past has included inventing alleged provocations along its border to justify military intervention.
When asked yesterday if the Kremlin had plans to invade Ukraine, Russia’s deputy UN ambassador, Dmitry Polyansky, replied that it “never planned, never did, and (is) never going to do it unless we’re provoked by Ukraine, or by somebody else.”
He pointed at the US naval deployment to the Black Sea and increasingly frequent U.S. and NATO intelligence flights. “We take measures to ensure our security when our opponents take defiant action near our borders,” Mr Peskov said.
“We can’t stay indifferent to that; we must be on our guard.”