Germany’s foreign minister on Tuesday said that Russia in recent weeks has amassed more than 100,000 troops with guns and tanks near the Ukraine border “without an understandable reason”.
“It’s hard not to understand that as a threat,” Annalena Baerbock told reporters during a briefing with her Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Moscow.
Diplomatic talks between Moscow and the West in Europe last week failed to resolve stark disagreements over Ukraine and other security matters.
The U.S. administration has accused Russia of preparing a “false flag operation” to use as a pretext to invade Ukraine. Russia has angrily denied the charge.
Lavrov reaffirmed that Russia expects a written response this week from the United States and its allies to Moscow’s request for binding guarantees that NATO will not embrace Ukraine or any other ex-Soviet nations or station its forces and weapons there.
Washington and its allies firmly rejected Moscow’s demands during last week’s Russia–U.S. negotiations in Geneva and a related NATO-Russia meeting in Brussels.
But Baerbock on Tuesday said that “Russia has demanded security guarantees that have once again been made clear. We are prepared for a serious dialogue on mutual agreements and steps to bring everyone in Europe more security.”
She said it is “important that we come back to the negotiating table in the Normandy format,” which involves her country, France plus Russia and Ukraine for talks aimed at ending the conflict.
The White House said Friday that U.S. intelligence officials had concluded that Russia had already deployed operatives to rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine to carry out acts of sabotage there and blame them on Ukraine to create a pretext for possible invasion.
Russia seized the Crimean Peninsula after the ouster of Ukraine’s Moscow-friendly leader and in 2014 also threw 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 in the country’s industrial heartland called Donbas.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that Moscow will take unspecified “military-technical measures” if the West stonewalls its demands.
Asked about Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline, built and being filled with natural gas to flow to Western Europe, Baerbock said “Right now the certification process for this pipeline is currently suspended.”
“We have stressed repeatedly at various levels of this government that, if energy were used as a weapon, this would have corresponding effects with a view to this pipeline,” she added.