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Russian diplomat refuses to rule out military deployment to Latin America

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By Euronews  with AP
US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, left, and Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov attend security talks at the United States Mission in Geneva, Switzerland.
US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, left, and Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov attend security talks at the United States Mission in Geneva, Switzerland.   -   Copyright  Denis Balibouse/Pool via AP

A top Russian diplomat on Thursday refused to rule out a military deployment to Cuba and Venezuela if the US and allies don't stop military activities on Russia's doorstep.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said he could “neither confirm nor exclude” the possibility of Russia sending military assets to Latin America.

“It all depends on the action by our US counterparts,” the minister said in an interview with Russian television network RTVI, citing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s warning that Moscow could take unspecified “military-technical measures” if the US and its allies fail to heed its demands.

There are ongoing talks between the US and Russia over a troop buildup near Ukraine.

Western countries have warned Russia of severe consequences if it invades the neighbouring country while Russia has placed demands on NATO not to accept ex-Soviet nations as new members.

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan dismissed Ryabkov's statements on Thursday about a possible Russian deployment to Latin America as “bluster”.

Speaking to reporters in Washington, Sullivan noted that no further talks have been scheduled, but “we’re prepared to continue with diplomacy to advance security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic.”

Ryabkov said a refusal by the US and its allies to consider the key Russian demand for guarantees against NATO's expansion to Ukraine and other former Soviet states makes it hard to discuss the confidence-building steps that Washington says it’s ready to negotiate.

“The US wants to conduct a dialogue on some elements of the security situation ... to ease the tensions and then continue the process of geopolitical and military development of the new territories, coming closer to Moscow,” he said. “We have nowhere to retreat.”

Ryabkov described US and NATO military deployments and drills near Russia's territory as extremely destabilising.

He said US nuclear-capable strategic bombers flew just 15 kilometres from Russia's border.

“We are constantly facing a provocative military pressure intended to test our strength,” he said, adding that he wondered how Americans would react “if our bombers fly within 15 kilometres off some US bases on the East or the West Coast.”

The high-stakes diplomacy took place as an estimated 100,000 Russian troops with tanks and other heavy weapons are massed near Ukraine’s eastern border. On Thursday, Sullivan reiterated concerns that Moscow may be laying the groundwork for invading Ukraine by fabricating allegations that Kyiv is preparing to act against Russia.

He said the US would be making public some of the reasons for that assessment in the coming days.

In 2014, Russia seized the Crimean Peninsula after the ouster of Ukraine’s Moscow-friendly leader, throwing its weight behind a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

More than 14,000 people have been killed in nearly eight years of fighting between the Russia-backed rebels and Ukrainian forces.