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Nov. 26, 2021, 4:20 p.m. EST

Russia warned by U.S., NATO as military buildup stokes fear of Ukraine invasion

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Associated Press

BRUSSELS (AP) — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned Russia on Friday that any attempt to invade Ukraine would have costs, as concern mounts about a Russian military buildup near its former Soviet neighbor’s borders.

Ukraine says Moscow kept about 90,000 troops near their common border following massive war games in western Russia earlier this year. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said units of the Russian 41st army remain near Yelnya, about 260 kilometers north of the border.

Moscow denies that it’s planning any invasion and refuses to provide details about troop movements on its own territory.

“If Russia uses force against Ukraine that will have costs, that would have consequences,” Stoltenberg said, ahead of a meeting of the 30-nation military organization’s foreign ministers in Latvia on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, where Russia’s activities will be high on the agenda. He did not say what those costs would be.

From the archives (September 2021): U.S. pledges $60 million in military aid to Ukraine as Biden meets Zelensky

“This is the second time this year that Russia has amassed a large and unusual concentration of forces in the region,” Stoltenberg told reporters. He said it includes tanks, artillery, armored units, drones, and electronic warfare systems, as well as combat-ready troops.

“This military buildup is unprovoked and unexplained. It raises tensions and it risks miscalculations,” Stoltenberg said. He conceded that “there is no certainty about the intentions of Russia” but said that “this is a military buildup by a country that has invaded Ukraine before.”

Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 after the country’s Moscow-friendly then-president was driven from power by mass protests . Weeks later, Russia threw its weight behind a separatist insurgency that broke out in Ukraine’s east.

From the archives (March 2021): G-7 rebukes Russia over annexation of Crimea

Ukraine and the West accused Russia of sending its troops and weapons to back the rebels. Moscow denied that, saying that Russians who joined the separatists were volunteers. More than 14,000 people have died in the fighting that devastated Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland known as Donbas.

A 2015 peace agreement brokered by France and Germany helped end large-scale battles, but efforts to reach a political settlement have failed and sporadic skirmishes have continued along the tense line of contact.

NATO would not be able to provide Ukraine with any substantial military support in time to make a difference against Russian forces, so economic measures like Western sanctions are more likely to be used to inflict a financial cost on Moscow.Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday alleged that his country’s intelligence service has uncovered plans for a Russia-backed coup d’état in Ukraine next week, something which the Russian government denied.

U.S. national-security adviser Jake Sullivan on Friday spoke with the head of the Presidential Administration in Ukraine, Andriy Yermak. The two discussed their shared concerns about ongoing Russian military activities near Ukraine’s border and agreed that all sides should pursue diplomatic efforts to de-escalate tensions, National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne said in a statement.

“Mr. Sullivan underscored the United States’ unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the statement read.

From the archives (December 2019): Ukraine’s Zelensky on U.S. military aid: ‘If you’re our strategic partner, then you can’t go blocking anything for us’

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