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Ukraine Calls For More Western Support Amid Russian Buildup


Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba (right) poses with Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis, (from left) Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics, and Estonian Foreign Minister Eva-Maria Liimets in Kyiv on April 15.

KYIV -- Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on April 15 called for stronger Western backing, saying “words of support aren't enough” amid escalating tensions prompted by a Russian troop buildup near the border.

Kuleba, speaking after talks in Kyiv with his counterparts from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, asked the Baltic nations to reach out to other European Union and NATO members about offering “practical assistance” to Kyiv.

Kuleba accused Moscow of "openly threatening Ukraine with war and the destruction of Ukrainian statehood,” and said it was necessary to show Russia that its actions in eastern Ukraine could have "very painful" consequences.

The three Baltic foreign ministers have expressed solidarity with Ukraine, a fellow former Soviet republic, and called for Moscow to de-escalate the situation.

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“Ukraine is legally and morally right, and we will emphasize this in international organizations. Currently, there is only one side that needs to de-escalate its actions -- the Russian Federation,” Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics told a joint press conference with his counterparts from the two other Baltic states and Ukraine.

"Ukraine will never be alone,” added Lithuania’s Gabrielius Landsbergis.

On April 16, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy will consult with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will also join them for a trilateral video call.

Zelenskiy said after a meeting of Ukraine's security council that the discussions in Paris will help prepare so-called Normandy format talks involving the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France, and Germany to try to resolve the Ukraine conflict.

Recent photographs, video, and other data suggest major movements of Russian armed units toward or near Ukraine's border and into Crimea, fueling concerns that Russia is preparing to send forces into Ukraine. The U.S. and NATO have described it as the largest Russian military buildup since 2014, when Moscow illegally annexed Crimea and backed separatists in the east of Ukraine.

Speaking to U.S. lawmakers, the top U.S. general in Europe said on April 15 there is a "low to medium" risk that Russia will invade Ukraine over the next few weeks.

Air Force General Tod Wolters, the commander of U.S. European Command and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, suggested that he does not expect a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

If the current conditions continue, Wolters estimated the risk of an invasion could decrease.

"My sense is, with the trend that I see right now, that the likelihood of an occurrence will start to wane," he said, without explaining the intelligence behind his assessment.

The comments come a day after William Burns, director of the CIA, told the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee that Russia had amassed sufficient military forces and equipment along Ukraine’s border to “provide the basis for limited military incursions” into the country.

Russia has rejected Western calls to pull back its troops, denying they are a threat and saying that military movements within Russia are an internal sovereign issue.

The Kremlin has also warned that Moscow "will not remain indifferent" to the fate of Russian speakers who live in Ukraine’s east, an area where Moscow has made it easier in recent months for them to gain Russian passports.

Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in March 2014, sending in troops and staging a referendum denounced as illegitimate by at least 100 countries. Moscow also backs separatists in a war against Ukrainian government forces that has killed more than 13,000 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014.

Nearly 30 Ukrainian soldiers have been reported killed since the start of the year, compared with 50 in all of 2020, when fighting in the conflict subsided as a new cease-fire deal came into force in July.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and C-SPAN