US pledges support to Ukraine as tensions escalate in Donbass

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The Kremlin said on Friday that any deployment of NATO troops to Ukraine would lead to further tensions near Russia’s borders and force Moscow to take extra measures to ensure its own security.

Russia warned on Thursday that a serious escalation in the conflict in Donbass could “destroy” Ukraine as NATO voiced concern over what it said was a big Russian military build-up near eastern Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Friday that the situation at the contact line in eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian government forces and Russian-backed separatist forces was quite frightening and that multiple “provocations” were taking place there.

Unverified social media footage has suggested Russia has been moving large quantities of tanks, armoured personnel carriers and other equipment to regions that border Ukraine as well as to Crimea, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

NATO voiced concern on Thursday over what it said was a big Russian military build-up near eastern Ukraine after Russia warned that a serious escalation in the conflict in Ukraine’s Donbass region could “destroy” Ukraine. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Thursday spoke with his Ukrainian counterpart, Andrii Taran, and “condemned recent escalations of Russian aggressive and provocative actions in eastern Ukraine,” the Pentagon said.

The Russian activity poses an early challenge to U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration, which this week held phone calls with senior Ukrainian officials in a public show of support for President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s government.

“Partly, it is the usual tactics, turning up and down the conflict to create instability, to show that Russia is a key player,” said one EU diplomat. “We cannot exclude that Biden’s presidency is part of the Russian calculus, that it’s time for Moscow to show a bit of muscle.”

Biden affirms U.S. ‘unwavering support’ for Ukraine in call: statement

U.S. President Joe Biden on Friday expressed the United States’ strong support for Ukraine in a call with the country’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the White House said.

“President Biden affirmed the United States’ unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression in the Donbas and Crimea,” the statement said.

Ukraine’s Zelenskiy says he stands ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with U.S. after Biden call

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy thanked the United States for its support. “We stand shoulder to shoulder when it comes to preservation of our democracies,” Zelenskiy wrote on Twitter. “The American partnership is crucial for Ukrainians.”

Zelenskiy’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, told Interfax Ukraine that the conversation lasted about 50 minutes.

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