Russian 'offensive in January' on Ukraine
Ukraine says Russia amassed over 94,000 troops at border
KIEV, Dec 3: Ukraine warned Friday that Russia could launch a large-scale attack on the country in late January as tensions soar over an alleged Russian troop build-up near Kiev's borders.
The United States and its allies have for weeks accused Russia of planning an invasion of Ukraine and massing troops along Kiev's borders. Moscow seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and has since backed separatists fighting Kiev in eastern Ukraine. The conflict has left more than 13,000 dead. Russia denies planning an attack.
Ukraine and its Western allies accuse Russia of sending troops and arms across the border to support the separatists -- claims Moscow denies. Ukraine's defense minister estimated Friday that Russia has amassed more than 94,000 troops near their borders and said there is a probability of a "large-scale escalation" in late January.
Ukrainian and Western officials recently voiced alarm about a Russian troop buildup near Ukraine, saying they feared it could herald an invasion. Moscow has denied planning to invade and accused Ukraine and its Western backers of fabricating claims to cover up their own allegedly aggressive designs. Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told lawmakers Friday that the number of Russian troops near Ukraine and in Russia-annexed Crimea is estimated to be 94,300.
Russia and Ukraine have remained locked in a tense tug-of-war after Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014 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.
Ukraine rejects any efforts to get it to scrap its plans to join NATO as well as any "guarantee" sought by Russia to ease tensions on the border, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told AFP on Friday. Moscow wants to see an end to NATO's eastward expansion, after much of Eastern Europe joined the alliance following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday called on his US counterpart Antony Blinken to provide "security guarantees" that NATO would not come closer to Russia's borders. Agreeing to abandon its plans to join the alliance "is not an option" for Kiev, Kuleba told AFP in an interview on the sidelines of an OSCE meeting in Stockholm.
NATO officially opened the door to Ukraine membership in 2008, though no progress has been made since. "It's absolutely inappropriate for Russia to have any influence on decisions taken by another sovereign country, Ukraine, and another international organisation, NATO," Kuleba added.
He urged the United States and its allies to reject the demands made by Moscow.
"We have a golden rule in Ukrainian diplomacy: no decisions about Ukraine without Ukraine. So if anyone, even our closest friends, decide anything related to Ukraine behind our backs, we will not recognise the decision."
US President Joe Biden and Russian leader Vladimir Putin are due to hold direct talks in the near future about the Ukraine tensions, almost seven years after Russia annexed Crimea and pro-Russian separatists took control over part of eastern Ukraine. -AFP