Russia called claims it is poised to invade neighboring Ukraine “ridiculous” and blamed NATO for increasing tensions by wanting to drag the former Soviet satellite into the alliance.
President Vladimir Putin has demanded a number of security guarantees from Western nations, including barring Ukraine or other former Soviet states from becoming NATO members and a drawback of forces from Eastern Europe.
He has stationed more than 100,000 troops and heavy military equipment along Russia’s eastern border with Ukraine, and the US has said an attack could happen at any time.
“At this time, they’re saying that Russia threatens Ukraine — that’s completely ridiculous,” Nikolai Patrushev, the head of Russia’s Security Council, said Sunday, according to the Russian news agency Tass.
“We don’t want war and we don’t need it at all,” he said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reiterated Moscow’s opposition to Ukraine joining the 30-member alliance.
NATO “has already come close to Ukraine. They also want to drag this country there,” Lavrov said. “Although everyone understands that Ukraine is not ready and could make no contribution to strengthening NATO security.”
His comments come a day after Russia began trying to recruit Ukrainians into the Russian army amid the buildup of forces along the Ukrainian border.
Viktor Vodolatsky, a high-ranking Russian lawmaker, urged civilians in Ukraine’s Russian-occupied Donbas region to join up with the Russian military.
Russia has been supporting pro-separatists fighting the Ukrainian army in Donbas since Putin illegally annexed Crimea in 2014.
“If Russian citizens residing in the (territories) want to join the Russian Armed Forces, the Rostov regional military commissariat will register and draft them,” Vodolatsky told Tass.
The US and NATO in their written responses to Putin’s demands said banning Ukraine from joining the alliance is a non-starter but signaled that other issues may be open for discussion.
Lavrov on Sunday said that he will press the US and its allies for clarification on meeting the security demands.
“Today, through the foreign ministry, we are sending an official request to our colleagues in the alliance and the OSCE, urging them to explain how they intend to implement (their) commitment not to strengthen their security at the expense of others,” Lavrov said, referring to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which has been taking part in the talks.
The US has warned Putin that an invasion of Ukraine would bring “severe” consequences in the form of crippling economic sanctions “like nothing he’s ever seen.”
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the government will introduce legislation this week to broaden the range of sanctions it can slap on Russia.
“What the legislation enables us to do is hit a much wider variety of targets. So there can be nobody who thinks that they will be immune to those sanctions,” Truss said Sunday.
The British government had only targeted companies involved in destabilizing Ukraine, but the new proposals would expand the penalties to include Russian financial institutions, energy companies and oligarchs close to the Kremlin.
“Any company of interest to the Kremlin and the regime in Russia would be able to be targeted so there will be nowhere to hide for Putin’s oligarchs, for Russian companies involved in propping up the Russian state,” Truss said.
With Post wires