Ukraine says Putin snubs Russian troop build-up talks, Moscow lashes U.S
By Ilya Zhegulev and Andrew Osborn
Kiev / Moscow (Reuters) - Ukraine on Monday accused the Kremlin of ignoring its request for talks between the two countries' presidents over building Russian troops near the border, but Moscow said its soldiers were in opposition to the US on their own territory forces in the region.
Kiev and Moscow have blamed the worsening situation in the eastern Donbass region, where Ukrainian troops fought against Russian-backed forces in a conflict that Kiev said has killed 14,000 people since 2014.
In recent weeks, the West has expressed concern about the massive build-up of Russian forces near the eastern border of Ukraine and in Crimea, which Russia annexed from Kiev in 2014.
The US State Department said on Monday that Secretary of State Antony Blinken and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg had "discussed the immediate need for Russia to end its aggressive military build-up".
Foreign ministers of the G7 group of states, including the United States, Great Britain and France, have condemned an increase in the number of Russian troops near the border with Ukraine and in Crimea, which were annexed by Russia in 2014.
"These large-scale troop movements represent threatening and destabilizing activities without prior notice," said the joint statement by the UK Foreign Office.
Russia has announced that it will move its armed forces at its own discretion, including for defense purposes.
Iuliia Mendel, spokeswoman for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, told Reuters on Monday that the chairman had tried and so far has not been able to speak to Putin on the matter.
"The President's office has of course asked to speak to Vladimir Putin. We have not yet received a response and we very much hope that this is not a rejection of the dialogue," said Mendel.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he had not seen such a request for talks "in the last few days" and did not know that one had recently been made.
When asked if Putin Zelenskiy had anything to say, Peskov said he hoped there would be "political wisdom" in Kiev when it came to de-escalating and avoiding a possible war.
Mendel said Russia has more than 40,000 soldiers stationed on Ukraine's eastern border and more than 40,000 soldiers in Crimea, and around 50,000 of those soldiers are new deployments.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on a visit to Egypt that Washington, not Moscow, had questions about its activities in and around Ukraine.
"Questions are being asked about what Russia is doing on the border with Ukraine," Lavrov said. "The answer is very simple. We live there, it's our country. But what is the United States doing with its warships and troops in Ukraine thousands of kilometers from its own territory?"
Turkey said Friday that Washington, which has provided Ukraine with weapons, would send two warships to the Black Sea this week. The Pentagon declined to discuss Turkey's comments, but said the military routinely sent ships to the region.
Zelenskiy held talks in Istanbul on Saturday with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who said developments in eastern Ukraine were worrying.
Lavrov on Monday told Turkey and other "responsible" nations not to feed what he called the "warlike mood" in Ukraine.
The stalemate has caused concern among Western supporters of Ukraine. Washington has accused Russia of a "provocative" structure.
Zelenskiy spoke of the need for NATO to allow Ukraine, a move Russia refuses, citing its own security concerns.
(Additional reporting by Tom Balmforth, Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow and David Milliken in London; writing by Matthias Williams / Andrew OsbornEditing by William Maclean)
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