Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov referred to recent tensions at the Russian border with Ukraine as a "powder keg" inflamed by the United States and NATO countries, following an uptick in violence between Ukrainian government troops and pro-Russia forces in the eastern Ukrainian region of the Donbas.
Russia Fears Resumption of Large-Scale Fighting In Donbas
“The United States and other NATO countries are deliberately turning Ukraine into a powder keg. If there is any aggravation, we of course will do everything to ensure our security and the safety of our citizens wherever they are,” Ryabkov said.
“But Kyiv and its allies in the West will be entirely responsible for the consequences of a hypothetical exacerbation,” he added.
Ukraine, meanwhile, has accused Russia of amassing thousands of military personnel on its northern and eastern borders as well as on the Crimean Peninsula, while NATO has called on Russia to withdraw its troops from near Ukraine’s eastern border, which the alliance claims are Moscow’s biggest buildup since 2014.
Moscow has repeatedly claimed that the military buildup poses no threat to any country and is intended for defensive purposes since two U.S. warships are due to arrive in the Black Sea this week. Russia has warned that any attempts spearheaded by the West to start a new military conflict in Ukraine’s war-torn east would culminate in the destruction of Ukraine.
Ryabkov asserted that the U.S. warships' deployment in the strategic sea was “provocative,” and that the risk of unspecified incidents was very high if a safety distance was not observed. “There is absolutely nothing for American ships to be doing near our shores, this is purely a provocative action, provocative in the direct sense of the word: they are testing our strength, playing on our nerves. They will not succeed,” Ryabkov said.
“We warn the United States that it will be better for them to stay far away from Crimea and our Black Sea coast. It will be for their own good,” he added.
Kyiv and Moscow have traded blame in recent weeks for a spike in violence in the Donbas, where Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian forces have been fighting since 2014. Confrontations began with a wave of protests in Ukraine that overthrew a democratically-elected pro-Russia government, setting in place the opposite forces, pro-West in their political leanings. The new government then unleashed a crackdown on mostly ethnic Russians living in the Eastern part of Ukraine, comprising the two regions known as Donetsk and Lugansk, known as the Donbas. After taking up arms, these Russians declared independence and proclaimed themselves republics.
Relations between Moscow and Kyiv further deteriorated when the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea rejoined Russia following a referendum in 2014. More than 90 percent of the participants in the referendum voted in favor of that unification.