Russia warned of serious consequences from any hostilities against Ukraine

Russia will face “serious consequences” if it threatens Ukraine’s territorial integrity, Paris and Berlin have warned, as ministers held meetings discussing the threat posed by a build-up of troops on the country’s border. In a joint statement, Heiko Maas and Jean-Yves Le Drian, the foreign ministers of Germany and France, pledged “unwavering support for the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine” after meeting their counterpart from Kyiv.

Their words came after Jens Stoltenberg, Nato’s secretary-general, called on Moscow to ease tensions with Ukraine and be transparent about its military activities as he warned of “unusual concentrations” of Russian troops near the country’s borders. The US briefed allies last week about intelligence indicating that Moscow was preparing for a possible invasion of Ukraine. Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, has dismissed the fears as “alarmist” and accused Nato of inflaming tensions in the region with its own unplanned exercises.

In a telephone conversation with Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, on Monday, Putin said the naval exercises in the Black Sea were “provocative” and accused Ukraine of “destructive” military activity in the Donbass that he said was “designed to break the Minsk accords”. Both sides agreed that the conflict in the Donbass was “getting even worse,” according to a Kremlin readout of the call. Kyiv estimates that Russia has deployed as many as 114,000 forces to the north, east and south of Ukraine — including about 92,000 ground soldiers and the rest in air and sea military forces, Kyrylo Budanov, chief of Ukraine’s military intelligence, has told the FT.

Speaking to the Financial Times on Monday evening, Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine foreign minister, said he expected the country’s allies to begin working on“deterrence” measures aimed at dissuading Putin from taking any military action. He declined to give any details. “I’m afraid that a simple expression of concern does not convince Russia, and does not make it behave less aggressively,” he said in an interview following meetings in Brussels. “Everything that can strengthen Ukraine’s capacity to defend itself and demotivate Russia from resorting to military actions is on the table.” Earlier on Monday, Maas said that Germany was making it clear to Russia on all diplomatic levels “that we are seeing [the troop build-up on Ukraine’s borders] and that this cannot be the start of a new escalation”.

Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, spoke about it “very clearly” on a phone call with Putin, Maas said. Stoltenberg said Nato’s support to Ukraine was “not a threat to Russia” and said exercises by the alliance and its allies in the Black Sea region were “defensive and transparent”. However, Moscow accused the US and its allies of “negative bravado” over the situation in Ukraine. Sergei Ryabkov, deputy foreign minister, told news agency Tass on Monday: “There are fewer and fewer grains of any kind of reason left. It’s full of provocative rhetoric against us, and its content is also extremely provocative.” EU foreign ministers met in Brussels on Monday, where they also discussed the situation on the eastern border of the EU.

The union has accused the regime of Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko of seeking to intentionally attract migrants to its borders as part of a plan to destabilize the EU in retaliation for its support for the political opposition in Belarus. Asked if there was any connection between Russia’s activities near Ukraine and the situation in Belarus, which has been backed by Russia, Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat, declined to draw any conclusions. “It’s clear Lukashenko is doing what he is doing because he has the strong support of Russia,” Borrell said.

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