NATO chief warns of thousands of Russian troops amassed near Ukraine

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has condemned a build-up of thousands of combat-ready Russian troops at Ukraine’s borders as unexplained, unjustified and deeply concerning, following a meeting with Kiev’s foreign minister.

Stoltenberg spoke on Tuesday in Brussels at a press conference of the largest massing of Russian troops since the illegal annexation of Crimea, calling on Moscow to reverse this, “stop its provocations and de-escalate immediately’’.

Recent reports of Russian military activity in and around Ukraine as well as ceasefire violations have sparked international concern that the seven-year conflict between the two nations could escalate again.

Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula after a controversial referendum in 2014.

Western governments still consider Crimea to be part of Ukrainian territory.

Parts of Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions along the Russian border are controlled by rebels supported by Moscow.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, who met Stoltenberg at the defence alliance’s headquarters in Belgium, said Russia was gathering troops in north-eastern Ukraine, in Crimea in the south and in Donbas in the east, as the Donetsk and Luhansk regions are collectively known.

If Moscow makes any reckless move or starts a “new spiral of violence, it will be costly in all senses,’’ Kuleba said, adding that Kiev does not want war.

The Ukrainian official is also set to meet U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Brussels later on Tuesday.

Ukraine is not one of NATO’s 30 members, but is a close partner.

The alliance offers support and capacity-building to the nation’s armed forces, for example.

The G7 nations issued a similar warning to Moscow on Monday.

“These large-scale troop movements, without prior notification, represent threatening and destabilising activities,’’ the foreign ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United States and Britain said in a joint statement on Monday.

“We call on Russia to cease its provocations and to immediately de-escalate tensions in line with its international obligations.’’

The ministers reaffirmed their “unwavering support for the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders’’ in the statement.

According to UN estimates, more than 13,000 people have been killed in the conflict since 2014.

Since the beginning of 2021, 50 fatalities had been reported in spite of  a ceasefire.

On Monday, the Ukrainian army again reported the death of a government soldier. (dpa/NAN)