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U.S. says ‘all options’ on the table over Russian troop build-up near Ukraine

file photo: file photo: ukrainian armed forces hold drills near the border with russian annexed crimea in kherson region
File photo: Ukrainian Armed Forces hold drills near the border with Russian annexed Crimea in Kherson region

By Humeyra Pamuk and Simon Lewis

All options are on the table in how to respond to Russia’s ‘large and unusual’ troop build-up near Ukraine’s border, and the NATO alliance will decide what the next move will be following consultations next week, the State Department’s top U.S. diplomat for European affairs said on Friday.

“As you can appreciate, all options are on the table and there’s a toolkit that includes a whole range of options,” Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Karen Donfried told reporters in a telephone briefing.

“It’s now for the alliance to decide what are the next moves that NATO wants to take,” she said, speaking ahead of a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Latvia and Sweden next week to attend NATO and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) meetings, where she said Moscow’s “large and unusual” troop build up would be topping the agenda.

“Next week, we will talk about our assessment of what’s happening on Russia’s border with Ukraine and we will begin that conversations of what are the options that are on the table and what it is that NATO as an alliance would like to do together,” she said.

U.S., NATO and Ukrainian officials have raised the alarm in recent weeks over what they say are unusual Russian troop movements closer to Ukraine, suggesting that Moscow may be poised to launch a attack on its neighbor, accusations Russia has rejected as fear-mongering.

Asked if Blinken was going to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov while in Stockholm, Donfried said she had no announcements to make on such a bilateral but added: “Stay tuned.”

On Friday, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Ukraine’s head of presidential administration, Andriy Yermak, in a call spoke about their concerns over Russian military activities near Ukraine’s border.

The two discussed Russia’s “harsh rhetoric” towards Ukraine and agreed all sides should pursue diplomatic efforts to ease tensions, National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne​​said in a statement. “Mr. Sullivan underscored the United States’ unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Horne said.

The head of Ukraine’s military intelligence told the Military Times outlet this weekend that Russia had more than 92,000 troops massed around Ukraine’s borders and was preparing for an attack by the end of January or beginning of February.

Moscow has dismissed such suggestions as inflammatory and said it was not threatening anyone and defended its right to deploy its troops as it wished.

Donfried was asked what the United States saw specifically different in Russia’s troop build up this time, but she did not elaborate aside from saying it was ‘large and unusual.’

Russia’s intentions remain unclear, and East-West tensions are running high with Ukraine, Russia and NATO all conducting military drills and Moscow accusing Washington of rehearsing a nuclear attack on Russia earlier this month.

Asked if recent escalation has prompted Washington to more seriously consider deploying permanent troops in NATO’s eastern flank, Donfried did not elaborate on the specific point but said NATO foreign ministers next week would be discussing the wider strategy for alliance’s posturing in 21st century.

At the OSCE meeting in Stockholm, Donfried said, Blinken will also raise Russia’s occupation of Ukrainian and Georgian territories, the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh and the crisis in Belarus.

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