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Reports of Russian troops massing near the Ukrainian border and in Crimea are "credible," the US said on Monday. It said Moscow needs to explain these "provocations."
With reports swirling of Russian troop movements along the eastern Ukrainan border, tensions are rising worldwide. The US, UK, EU and NATO have pledged their support for Ukraine should the nation come under attack.
The US State Department called on Russia to refrain from escalating tensions with Ukraine, in comments to reporters on Monday.
Russia has reportedly amassed troops and moved tanks near the Ukrainian border in recent days, as a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine looks increasingly shaky. The movements are the latest point of tension between Russia and the US less than three months after US President Joe Biden took office.
"We call on Russia to refrain from escalatory actions," State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
Price said the United States would be concerned by any effort by Moscow to intimidate Ukraine, whether it occurred on Russian territory or within Ukraine.
He declined to say whether the US believes Russia is preparing to invade the former Soviet republic.
"We've asked Russia for an explanation of these provocations," Price said. "But more importantly, what we have signaled with our Ukrainian partners is a message of reassurance."
The State Department briefing follows President Biden's first call with Ukrainian President Zelensky on Friday.
Amid rising tensions between the Ukraine and Russia, President Joe Biden made his first call to his Ukrainian counterpart, President Volodymyr Zelensky.
In their conversation, Biden affirmed Washington's support for "Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia's ongoing aggression".
Throughout Europe, US forces raised their alert status in response to the "recent escalations of Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine."
Last July, all sides to the conflict agreed on a ceasefire in the eastern Donbass area. But starting in mid-February, increased fighting has further undermined an already fragile peace in the region.
Since 2014, at least 13,000 people have been killed in the ongoing conflict.
The call between the two leaders came after the NATO alliance expressed concern over what is said was a large Russian military buildup on Ukraine's eastern border, warning Moscow against any further escalations of the situation.
"NATO will continue to support the sovereignty and territorial Integrity of Ukraine. We remain vigilant and continue to monitor the situation very closely," a NATO spokesman told German newspaper, Die Welt.
The "destabilizing actions on the part of Russia" undermined efforts to de-escalate tensions under the OSCE-brokered July 2020 ceasefire agreement, the NATO spokesman said.
The alliance would "continue to support Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity," he added.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell expressed concern on Sunday after a phone call with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in which he pledged the bloc's "unwavering" support for Kiev.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday also said the UK has "significant concerns" over Russian activity in Crimea and on the Ukrainian border.
"The Prime Minister reaffirmed our unwavering support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity," Johnson's office said.
He expressed his solidarity with President Zelensky's government "in the face of this destabilizing activity and commended Ukraine's approach to the situation." He said the UK would work to "ensure there is no further escalation."
In a tweet after the call Zelensky thanked Johnson for his support and said the Ukraine was "not alone" and was "supported by the G7 nations."
On Monday Ukraine denied reports that its forces had killed a five-year-old child in an attack on pro-Moscow eastern separatists, following Russia's statement that it would launch an investigation.
Russia on Monday denied that its military movements posed a threat to Ukraine and dismissed fears of a buildup even as it warned that it would respond to new Ukrainian sanctions against Russian companies.
mb/aw (AFP, Reuters)