NATO foreign ministers on Tuesday called on Russia to de-escalate, warning they stand in solidarity with Ukraine.
Speaking from Riga, Latvia, where NATO foreign ministers have gathered for a summit, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that the build-up of Russian troops and military equipment near the Ukrainian border "is unprovoked and unexplained."
"We see Russian military build-up, we see heavy armour, we see drones, and combat-ready troops."
"Russia needs to be transparent, and they need to reduce tensions, and de-escalate," he added.
He stressed that although Ukraine is not a NATO ally — and therefore does not fall under Article 5 for Collective Defense — it is "a highly valued partner".
"We provide support, political, practical support. Allies provide training, capacity building, equipment, and I am absolutely certain that allies will recommit and reconfirm their strong support to Ukraine also during the meeting today," he said.
Kyiv meanwhile told Euronews that the situation along its border and the migrant crisis between Belarus and the EU are "absolutely connected" and that Russia plays a part.
Ahead of the NATO meeting, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington is "very concerned about the movements we’ve seen along Ukraine’s border. We know that Russia often combines those efforts with internal efforts to destabilise a country. That’s part of the playbook, and we’re looking at it very closely."
“Any renewed aggression would trigger serious consequences,” Blinken warned ahead of talks in Riga, Latvia, with his counterparts in the 30-country military organisation.
The United States has shared intelligence with European allies warning of a possible invasion of Ukraine. European diplomats acknowledge the Russian troop movements, but some countries have played down the threat of any imminent invasion ordered by Moscow.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the NATO ministers will “together send an unmistakable message to the Russian government: NATO’s support for Ukraine is unbroken and its independence, territorial integrity and sovereignty are not up for discussion.”
“Russia would have to pay a high price for any form of aggression,” Maas said. “Honest and sustainable de-escalation steps, which can only go via the route of talks, are all the more important now. I will not tire of stressing that the door to such talks is still open to Russia.”
Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 after the country’s Moscow-friendly 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. Moscow says that Russians who joined the separatists were volunteers.
The conflict in the Donbas region has killed more than 14,000 people and episodic bouts of fighting continue despite a 2015 peace agreement brokered by France and Germany.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said last week that his country's intelligence service had uncovered plans for a Russia-backed coup d'état. Russia denied the allegation and rejected the assertion that it is planning to invade Ukraine.
Russia's 'red line'
Vladimir Putin, Russia's President, on Tuesday warned NATO against deploying its troops and weapons to Ukraine, saying it represents a red line for Russia and would trigger a strong response.
Commenting on Western concerns about Russia's alleged intention to invade Ukraine, he said that Moscow is equally worried about NATO drills near its borders.
Speaking to participants of an online investment forum. the Russian president said that NATO's eastward expansion has threatened Moscow's core security interests. He expressed concern that NATO could eventually use the Ukrainian territory to deploy missiles capable of reaching Russia's command centers in just five minutes.
“The emergence of such threats represents a ‘red line’ for us,” Putin said. “I hope that common sense and responsibility for their own countries and the global community will eventually prevail.”
He added that Moscow has been forced to counter the growing threats by developing new hypersonic weapons.
“What should we do?” Putin said. “We would need to develop something similar to target those who threaten us. And we can do that even now.”
'Hybrid attack on the EU, Ukraine'
NATO foreign ministers will also discuss the situation in Belarus which the EU and US have accused of stoking a migration crisis in retaliation against western sanctions against Minsk over the fraudulent August 2020 presidential election.
For Ukraine, the Russian military build-up along its border and the Belarus border crisis are "absolutely connected."
Denys Shmyhal, Ukraine's Prime Minister, told Euronews on Tuesday during an official visit to Brussels that "all of these factors are connected, and we understand that this is a hybrid attack on the European Union, on Ukraine."
"These [are] all absolutely connected factors which lead to the aggression from Russia side, which lead to the using of energy [supplies] against Europe and against Ukraine's European inspirations," he added.
According to Shmyhal, more than 100,000 Russian troops are stationed along the border.
"[From] our point of view, this [brings] destabilisation inside of Ukraine to stop (the) Ukrainian European integration path. But also it's bringing destabilisation inside of Europe because of this migration crisis, because of this energy crisis, because of these cyberattacks."
The Prime Minister argued the present escalation is different than previous episodes and warned Russian troops have more ammunition and are being trained "for attack in action, not for protection".