Russia and Ukraine held simultaneous military exercises on Wednesday as North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) foreign and defense ministers began urgent talks on the growing number of Russian troops near the Ukrainian border.
Washington and NATO have been alarmed by the large build-up of Russian troops near Ukraine and in Crimea, the peninsula Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014, and two US warships are expected to arrive in the Black Sea this week. .
Russia said the US naval move was a hostile provocation and warned Washington to stay away from Crimea and its Black Sea coast.
He said the readiness was a three-week military exercise to test combat readiness in response to what he called threatening behavior on the part of NATO.
He said the exercise would end in two weeks.
Before the arrival of US warships, the Russian Navy began an exercise in the Black Sea on Wednesday that repeated firing at surface and aerial targets.
The exercise took place a day after NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called on Moscow to end the build-up of its troops.
In Ukraine, the armed forces have repeated to repel a tank and infantry attack near the border of Crimea annexed by Russia while its defense minister, Andrii Taran, told MEPs in Brussels that Russia was preparing to potentially stockpile nuclear weapons in Crimea.
Taran provided no evidence for his claim, but said Russia was massing 110,000 troops on the Ukrainian border into 56 battalion-sized tactical groups, citing the latest intelligence from Kiev.
Fighting has intensified in recent weeks in eastern Ukraine, where government forces have fought Russian-backed separatists in a seven-year conflict that Kiev says has killed 14,000 people.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who met in Brussels with Stoltenberg ahead of a video conference of the 30 NATO allies, said the alliance “will tackle Russia’s aggressive actions in and around the country. ‘Ukraine’, without giving further details.
In a phone call with Putin on Tuesday, Biden offered to hold a summit between the separated leaders to tackle a range of issues, including easing tensions over Ukraine.
The Kremlin said on Wednesday it was too early to talk about such a summit in tangible terms and that holding such a meeting depended on Washington’s future behavior, in what sounded like a thinly veiled reference to possible US sanctions.
Russia has regularly accused NATO of destabilizing Europe by reinforcing its troops in the Baltic countries and in Poland, all members of the Atlantic alliance following the annexation of Crimea by Moscow.
NATO has denied the assertion by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu that the alliance is deploying 40,000 troops and 15,000 military equipment near Russia’s borders, mainly in the Black Sea and the Baltic regions. (Reuters / NAN)
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