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U.S., Ukraine Deny Putin's Assertion That They Are Aggressor In Border Escalation

Ukrainian flags in front of the Russian Embassy in Kyiv symbolize the estimated 13,200 people killed in a conflict between Ukrainian troops and Russia-backed separatist forces in eastern Ukraine since 2014. (file photo)
Ukrainian flags in front of the Russian Embassy in Kyiv symbolize the estimated 13,200 people killed in a conflict between Ukrainian troops and Russia-backed separatist forces in eastern Ukraine since 2014. (file photo)

The United States and Ukraine deny that Kyiv is preparing a military offensive in its eastern region, an assertion made by Russian President Vladimir Putin during his news conference on December 23.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that “facts make clear that the only aggression at the border of Russia and Ukraine is the military buildup by the Russians and the bellicose rhetoric from the leader of Russia.”

Psaki also noted that NATO is a defensive alliance and there is no evidence “to suggest anything to the contrary from the United States or NATO members.”

Putin claimed that concern in the West over its troop buildup and a possible invasion of Ukraine could be a prelude to a possible attempt by Ukraine to launch an offensive against separatists in the east.

“It seems they are preparing another operation [in Donbas] and are warning us not to get in the way, or there'll be sanctions," Putin said.

Ukrainian officials have denied any intention to launch an offensive against the separatists. Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Nikolenko said Putin’s claim about Kyiv preparing a military operation was untrue.

The Foreign Ministry on December 23 also protested what it said was an illegal “humanitarian convoy” sent by Russia to the Donbas, parts of which have been under Moscow-backed separatists’ control since April 2014. It complained that the convoy passed through a border crossing not controlled by the government in Kyiv.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on December 23 discussed the situation with British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who also said NATO is a defensive alliance.

“Ukraine continues to show commendable restraint in the face of Russian provocation and aggression,” she added.

Truss said any Russian incursion “would be a massive strategic mistake and would be met with strength, including coordinated sanctions with our allies to impose a severe cost on Russia’s interests and economy.”

Truss and Blinken “agreed on the importance of reinforcing coordinated support amongst allies and partners to impose consequences and costs for further Russian aggression towards Ukraine,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

Psaki also noted that Putin said he was encouraged by the fact that there are plans for diplomatic talks in January.

“We also believe that that is the best path and the right path forward,” she said, adding that there has been no final agreement on the location or timing for the talks.

Putin said that there had been an agreement to hold a meeting in Geneva in January.

A senior U.S. administration official said on December 23 that the United States was ready to engage in talks with Russia in early January regarding its demand for security guarantees, but the official did not name a location.

However, the official reiterated that some of Russia’s demands are unacceptable. Speaking on a conference call with reporters, the official also said that any dialogue “must be based on reciprocity” and that the West will raise its own concerns about Russian actions.

Russia’s demands essentially call for a "sphere of influence" for Moscow in its near abroad, including veto power over the foreign policy choices of its neighbors. Ukraine and Georgia have said they want to join NATO to protect themselves from possible Russian aggression.

The official said that, if Russia invades Ukraine, the U.S. and its allies are prepared to impose “severe costs that would damage Russia's economy and bring about exactly what it says it does not want -- more NATO capabilities, not less, closer to Russia, not further away.”

With reporting by AP and RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service
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