Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy visits positions of armed forces near the front with Russian-backed separatists during his working tour in the Donbass region of Ukraine on April 8, 2021.
Press service of the Ukrainian President | Handout | via Reuters
WASHINGTON – The Biden government announced Thursday that it had held talks with NATO allies about escalating tensions in Ukraine as Russia increased its military presence near the country’s border.
“Russia now has more troops on the border with Ukraine than ever since 2014, with five Ukrainian soldiers killed this week alone,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said during a briefing, describing the matter as “deeply worrying”.
“The United States is increasingly concerned about the recent escalating Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine, including Russian troop movements on the Ukrainian border,” she said, adding that the Biden administration is working with NATO allies about heightened tensions and ceasefire violations have advised.
Psaki’s comments follow a controversial phone call between Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin, in which she called for Moscow to reduce its troop levels in the region near eastern Ukraine.
“The Chancellor called for this structure to be resolved in order to de-escalate the situation,” wrote the federal government in a reading of the appeal between the two leaders.
In recent weeks, Russia has increased its military presence along the Ukrainian border, raising concerns in the West about a burgeoning military conflict between the two neighbors. The Russian Defense Ministry has announced that it will conduct more than 4,000 military exercises this month to review the readiness of its armed forces.
“Russia’s armed forces are located on Russian territory in the places it deems necessary and appropriate, and they will remain there as long as our military leadership and our Commander-in-Chief deem it appropriate,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said when asked was how long Russian forces would stay near Ukraine, according to Reuters.
Continue reading: The West is waiting for Putin’s next move as tensions between Russia and Ukraine mount
Last month, the Ukrainian government said four of its soldiers were killed by Russian shelling in Donbass. Moscow has denied that it has armed forces in eastern Ukraine. Kiev is fighting against Russian-backed separatists in a conflict that, according to the United Nations, has killed at least 13,000 people since 2014.
The Kremlin has said it is concerned about mounting tensions in eastern Ukraine and fears that the Kiev armed forces will attempt to resume conflict.
“It is not very clear what the Russians are doing there, we want to understand more, and this uncertainty obviously does not contribute to a more stable and safer situation,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday.
“As I said, the full intentions are not 100% clear and we would like to understand more about what the Russians are doing there and what they are up to there, but it is not beneficial, this build-up and a fairly rapid build-up is not conducive to more stability” added Kirby.
The build-up of Russian troops has led to repeated calls from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to accelerate his nation’s admission to the NATO alliance. President Joe Biden spoke to Zelensky last week, expressing US support for Ukraine’s sovereignty “in the face of ongoing Russian aggression”.
When asked about Ukraine’s possible accession to the alliance, the Pentagon, State Department and White House reiterated that all eligible countries should meet NATO standard for membership.
“We are committed to ensuring that prospective countries wishing to join NATO meet the organization’s standard for membership,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ned Price said when asked about Ukraine’s status.
“To this end, we continue to urge the Ukrainian government to carry out the deep, comprehensive and timely reforms necessary to build a more stable, democratic, prosperous and free country,” he added.