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Ukraine: NATO slams Russia's troop buildup on border

Ukraine: NATO slams Russia's troop buildup on border”

Kuleba called for further economic sanctions on Russian Federation and more military support for Ukraine.

Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and two USA warships are due to arrive in the Black Sea this week amid an escalation in fighting in eastern Ukraine where government forces have battled Russian-backed troops in a conflict Kyiv says has killed 14,000 people.

Tensions have soared in recent days over Russian movements at the Ukrainian border, with the United States saying that troop levels are at their highest since 2014 when war first broke out with Moscow-backed separatists.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken headed to Brussels on Tuesday to meet with European and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies on a range of issues, including Russia's buildup of forces along the border with Ukraine and coalition operations in Afghanistan.

"The U.S. stands firmly behind the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Ukraine", Blinken told Kuleba at the start of their meeting at the residence of the U.S. ambassador to Belgium, a post once held by Blinken's uncle. More than 14,000 people have died in fighting in eastern Ukraine since 2014, and efforts to negotiate a political settlement have stalled.

The latest attack brought the total number of Ukranian soldiers killed by Russian-backed forces in Donbas to 27 this year alone.

The Ukrainian foreign minister sounded defiant toward Moscow, and said Ukraine and its Western partners were better prepared than seven years ago.

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She said Russian Federation has accumulated 41,000 troops at its border with eastern Ukraine and 42,000 more in Crimea.

But while highlighting the support of NATO, Kuleba also said, "Should Russia take any reckless move or start a new spiral of violence, it will be costly in all senses". "Russia must end this military buildup in and around Ukraine, stop its provocations and de-escalate immediately".

In recent weeks, Western officials have expressed concerns about Russia's military buildup close to Ukraine's eastern border and the Crimean Peninsula, which Russian Federation annexed in 2014.

"The troops have demonstrated full readiness and ability to fulfill tasks to ensure the country's military security", he said.

Officials insisted that the Kremlin is entitled to move troops "within Russian territories" and pledged to protect Russian speakers in the region. Stoltenberg stressed that the alliance - not Moscow - will choose whether Ukraine joins NATO: "It is for the 30 NATO allies to decide when Ukraine is ready for NATO membership, and no one else has any right to try to meddle or to interfere in that process".

"This is an important principle, because Russian Federation is now trying to reestablish some kind of sphere of influence where they try to decide what neighbours can do".

The State Department says Blinken will have meetings in the Belgian capital on Tuesday and be met there by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin for additional consultations on Wednesday.

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