Russia: Lavrov says Western presence at border is ‘inadmissible’
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The news comes as Russian and American Foreign Ministers attended a high profile meeting to attempt to hammer out a diplomatic solution to the crisis. At the same time, US President Joe Biden has held virtual talks with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to discuss a range of regional security issues, as well as the ongoing tension surrounding Ukraine.
A senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to share details of Biden’s call, said that the two leaders discussed the growing tensions caused by a Russian military buildup on its border with Ukraine.
The official said that Mr Kishida “made clear that Japan would be fully behind the United States” if it acted in response to a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The leaders agreed to meet in person later this year but concurred that an official visit to Japan would depend on health precautions during the coronavirus pandemic.
The source said of the meeting: “We did not get into specific possible steps that would be taken in the event that we see these actions transpire.”
For months, Russia has carried out an extraordinary deployment of forces and equipment to its border with Ukraine.
The buildup has evoked Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, a peninsula on the Black Sea, which sparked an international uproar and triggered a series of sanctions against Moscow.
The seizure of Crimea also led to Russia’s removal from the Group of 8, or G-8, referring to the eight major global economies.
Talks between Sergei Lavrov and Anthony Blinken ended in an open and frank warning from the top US diplomat.
Mr Blinken warned that any Russian invasion of Ukraine would be “met with a severe and a united response.”
The Secretary of State said the talks also provided a “clearer path of understanding each other’s concerns.”
Moscow’s reiterated its insistence that NATO not only agree never to admit Ukraine but also the withdrawal of troops and forces back to NATO’s 1997 borders before several countries in Eastern Europe were admitted.
The Russian foreign ministry specifically singled out Bulgaria and Romania, the latter of which shares Ukraine’s southern border.
A ministry statement from Moscow said: “We are talking about the withdrawal of foreign forces, hardware, and weapons as well as other steps that will ensure that the setup in the countries that were not NATO members back in 1997 would be reverted to what it was back then, these include Bulgaria and Romania.”
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Although Ukraine is not a member of NATO, and hence would require a united response if Russia did invade under Article 5 of the alliance, the US is seeking to boost allied support nonetheless.
The goal of any military reinforcement in Eastern Europe would be to provide deterrence and reassurance to allies.
The options could include “movement of assets and forces already in Europe and also assets and forces available outside of Europe,” according to one military official.
A Russian invasion “certainly would be one trigger” for US troops and assets to move.
But some forces might be used in exercises and other training scenarios as well.
Broadly, the US military goal would be to “meet the capability” NATO allies in the region are asking for, said one source.
US forces could operate, as they already do, unilaterally in Europe, but could also operate under existing NATO command structures.
These options would also likely be supported by sanctions against Moscow, including economic ones including the withdrawal of Russian access to the SWIFT payment scheme.
Russia has amassed more than 100,000 troops along the Ukrainian border, and US officials have warned an attack could happen at any time.
Mr Biden said on Wednesday he believed Mr Putin would invade Ukraine.
Mr Lavrov, however, insisted Friday that Russia was not planning to attack.
The Russian Foreign Minister said: “You claim that we are going to attack Ukraine, although we have repeatedly explained that this is not the case.”
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