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US Warns Russia Over Ukraine War Threat12/02 06:16

   

   MOSCOW (AP) -- The Kremlin voiced concern Thursday about a possible 
escalation of fighting in a separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine as the U.S. 
issued a strong warning to Russia to stay away from Ukraine.

   Ukrainian and Western officials have worried about a Russian troop buildup 
near Ukraine, fearing it could herald an invasion. But Moscow has insisted it 
has no such intention and accused Ukraine and its Western backers of making up 
the claims to cover up their own allegedly aggressive designs.

   U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Russian Foreign Minister 
Sergey Lavrov at their meeting in Stockholm on Thursday that "if Russia decides 
to pursue confrontation, there will be serious consequences," adding that "the 
best way to avert a crisis is through diplomacy."

   Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in Moscow that "the Ukrainian 
authorities' aggressive and increasingly intensive provocative action on the 
line of contact" gives grounds for concerns about a possible flare-up of 
hostilities. He said that recent statements from Ukrainian President Volodymyr 
Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian officials indicate that "the Ukrainian leadership 
doesn't exclude a forceful scenario."

   "The probability of hostilities in Ukraine still remains high," Peskov said 
in a conference call with reporters.

   Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-proclaimed separatist republic in 
Donetsk, said on Russian state television that he could turn to Moscow for 
military assistance if the region faces a Ukrainian attack.

   Ukrainian officials have denied an intention to reclaim the rebel regions by 
force.

   The two ex-Soviet neighbors have remained locked in a tense tug-of-war after 
Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014 following the ouster of the 
country's Kremlin-friendly president and threw its weight behind a separatist 
insurgency in Ukraine's eastern industrial heartland, known as the Donbas. More 
than 14,000 people have died in the fighting.

   President Vladimir Putin has warned NATO against deploying its troops and 
weapons to Ukraine, saying it represented a red line for Russia and would 
trigger a strong response. He said Wednesday that Moscow would seek Western 
guarantees precluding any further NATO expansion and deployment of its weapons 
near Russia's borders.

   Blinken said "we have deep concerns about Russia's plans for renewed 
aggression against Ukraine," adding that "it's a concern that is shared by many 
in Europe." He was speaking during a meeting with Lavrov on the sidelines of a 
ministerial meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe 
in Stockholm.

   Blinken reaffirmed that the U.S. has "a strong, ironclad commitment to the 
sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine."

   Referring to a 2015 peace agreement for eastern Ukraine brokered by France 
and Germany and signed in Minsk, Belarus, Blinken called for a "full 
implementation of the Minsk agreements with Russia pulling back its forces."

   Moscow says it's not a party to the deal between Ukraine and self-proclaimed 
separatist regions, and denies Ukrainian and Western assertions of sending its 
troops and weapons into eastern Ukraine.

   In his speech at the OSCE meeting, Lavrov urged Ukraine to abide by its 
obligation with the Minsk agreement that envisages a broad autonomy for the 
rebel regions, warning that Kyiv's refusal to honor it is a "way toward a 
catastrophe."

   He also warned Biden at their meeting that "any further NATO expansion 
eastward undoubtedly compromises our core security interests."

   The top Russian diplomat charged that the West is "playing with fire" when 
it argues that Russia doesn't have a say in NATO's expansion plans.

   "I want to make it crystal clear: turning our neighbors into a bridgehead 
for confrontation with Russia, the deployment of NATO forces in the regions 
strategically important for our security is categorically unacceptable," he 
told the OSCE meeting.

   Lavrov followed up on Putin's call for a new security arrangement, stating 
that reaching an agreement on a set of "long-term and legally binding security 
guarantees is imperative to prevent sliding into a confrontational scenario."

 
 
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