Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Ukrainian officials will travel to Brussels this week to meet with NATO allies for discussions about the “ongoing build-up of Russian military forces on Ukraine’s borders,” according to joint statements and Blinken’s team.
“There are more Russian forces massed on those borders than at any time since 2014, when Russia first invaded Ukraine,” acting Assistant Secretary of State Philip Reeker, who leads the State Department’s European affairs bureau, told reporters.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s team has suggested in recent days that Russian forces might need “to take care of the interests of Russian speakers” in eastern Ukraine, after insisting earlier this month that the movement of Russian troops along the western edge of the country was of no concern to Kyiv. That rhetoric has stoked suspicions that Russian forces might pour over the border on false pretenses, just as Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine in 2014 and then denied having sent any forces into the country.
“At the same time, Russia has had a disinformation campaign blatantly designed to falsely blame Ukraine for what are the Kremlin’s own actions,” Reeker added.
Reeker declined to air any hypotheses about Russia’s motives in committing this military buildup at this juncture, but a bloc of major NATO allies condemned the “large ongoing build-up of Russian military forces on Ukraine’s borders and in illegally-annexed Crimea” in a statement from the G-7 — a group comprised of the United States and the six other leading industrialized democracies.
“These large-scale troop movements, without prior notification, represent threatening and destabilizing activities,” the G-7 communique said. “We call on Russia to cease its provocations and to immediately de-escalate tensions in line with its international obligations.”
Kremlin officials have implied that a fresh Russian assault may be necessary to prevent “a human catastrophe” of the sort that unfolded during the Srebrenica genocide during the Bosnian War in 1995. “And all countries, including Russia, will undertake measures in order for such tragedies not to be repeated,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “The entire world, all civilized countries and European states in case of another Srebrenica in southeastern Ukraine will counteract this in every way possible in order to prevent the catastrophe.”
Western observers regard such statements as a cynical threat, given Putin’s previous admission that he had lied about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014 — a moment of candor that has since been erased from Russian government talking points.
“What we’re focused on now is discussion and meeting with our allies and others who are equally concerned,” Reeker said. “And we’re using tools like OSCE in Vienna, also this week, to try to address those concerns and see de-escalation by Russia, in terms of not only the military threat but also this disinformation and the rhetoric that’s flowing.”
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba likely will meet with Blinken on the sidelines of a NATO-Ukraine Council meeting this week, according to Reeker. “Moscow must stop fueling the military frenzy and immediately and explicitly confirm its commitment to a diplomatic settlement and ceasefire,” Kuleba said on April 1.