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Blinken says US fears Russia ‘trying to rehash’ Ukraine’s 2014 invasion

Speaking alongside Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba at the State Department, Blinken said the United States was “concerned about reports of unusual Russian military activity” and “is monitoring very closely” Russian activity.

“Our concern is that Russia may make a serious mistake in trying to rehash what it undertook in 2014, when it amassed forces along the border, crossed into sovereign Ukrainian territory and did so in falsely claiming that it was provoked, “Blinken said, referring to Russia’s invasion of Crimea. “So the playbook that we’ve seen in the past was to claim some provocation as a justification for doing what he, what he intended and intended to do. That’s why we’re looking at this very carefully. “

The senior American diplomat also reiterated the United States’ attachment to the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine, calling it “foolproof”.

In a post on his Facebook page on Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked the United States for its support and for the intelligence it had shared on the situation.

“Our Western partners have provided data on the active movement of Russian troops along the Ukrainian border and the increase in their concentration,” he wrote. “Above all, we are very grateful to our partners for this information. This is proof of Ukraine’s support.

He echoed Blinken’s remarks on Russia’s playbook, saying that “of [the] On the Russian side, we hear accusations that it is Ukraine that is delaying the peace process. … I hope now the whole world can clearly see who really wants peace and who is concentrating nearly 100,000 troops on our border. “

“Demotivate them”

Kuleba also said the United States and Ukraine shared “material” on Wednesday regarding Russian military activities. “What we heard and saw today in Washington, DC, matches our own conclusions and analyzes, adds new elements, which allow us to have a better and more complete picture,” he said.

Blinken and Kuleba addressed reporters following a strategic dialogue that led to the signing of a renewed strategic partnership between Ukraine and the United States. The Ukrainian official expressed his gratitude to the United States for deepening defense and security cooperation “to help Ukraine strengthen its ability to defend itself and also to dissuade Russia from demotivating them to take action. aggressive new measures “.

“The best way to deter aggressive Russias is to make the Kremlin understand that Ukraine is strong,” Kuleba said. “I have repeated many times that the Russian aggression against Ukraine will end when Ukraine’s place as part of the West is institutionalized and unquestionable. Today we have made a another important step in this direction. ”

Blinken said the United States would continue to “consult closely with its allies and partners as well” on Russian troop movements. On Friday, the United States sent an official diplomatic note, known as the demeanor, to NATO allies providing them with additional intelligence and requesting additional coordination in response to irregular troop movements, a person familiar with said. the message.

“As we state, any escalation or aggression will be of great concern to the United States,” Blinken said Wednesday. He added that the United States would continue to support de-escalation in the region and a diplomatic resolution of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Vigilant and resilient

Kuleba said it might be difficult to find a diplomatic solution. Highlighting various Russian efforts to destabilize Europe – including its coercive use of energy supplies, “propaganda efforts, disinformation, cyber attacks, military reinforcements, Russia’s attempt to digest Belarus” – the diplomat Ukrainian warned that “in this complicated game we must remain vigilant, we must, must be resilient.”

The joint press appearance is just the latest effort by the Biden administration to demonstrate support for Ukraine, some of which has taken place behind closed doors.

Burns met Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian security chief Nikolai Patrushev last week as the Biden administration grew concerned about recent Russian troop movements near Ukraine. As CNN first reported on Friday, President Joe Biden sent Burns to Moscow to deliver a clear message to the Kremlin that the United States is closely monitoring the movements.

In response, Patrushev did not deny that Russia was accumulating military units in the region, according to the four people briefed on the discussion. This contrasted with the recent Kremlin claim that satellite imagery showing such an accumulation – including self-propelled guns, battle tanks and infantry fighting vehicles at a training ground some 186 miles from the border – were “of poor quality” and “wrong.”

“The big question is …”

The exact number of new Russian forces currently deployed there is not clear. An official told CNN that the number of units in the region has increased by about two-thirds in recent weeks.

But U.S. officials believe military activity in western Russia is spotty, multiple sources told CNN. On the one hand, it is the offseason for military exercises in Russia. Some ground units are also very far from their headquarters, said Michael Kofman, a Russian military studies expert at the Center for Naval Analyzes.

“The big question is why are units in the Central Military District 3,000 miles from their garrison hanging around for the winter? he said. “It is difficult to find an innocuous explanation for the military activity that is taking place,” he added.

Russian special forces, known as Spetsnaz, are also on the ground there, two people close to intelligence services said. Special forces greatly expand hybrid warfare capabilities, such as psychological operations.

Still, US officials and outside experts who follow the movements closely say they see no sign that Russia is preparing to invade in the coming days or weeks. They do not yet see what is called a “logistics tail”, for example – the supply lines that would be needed by any army to launch a combat operation.

These sources say that Russia appears to be positioning itself to be able to launch a military campaign in the coming months, possibly as early as January. Missing ingredients, like a logistical tail, could be amassed in the short term, Kofman noted.

After his meetings in Russia, Burns spoke to Zelensky by phone in an attempt to dispel tensions, the sources told CNN. A senior State Department official was also dispatched to Kiev on Thursday to support the efforts.

The wave of high-level diplomacy underscores how seriously the Biden administration takes the latest Russian troop movements, even after an earlier build-up this spring ultimately failed to lead to a new invasion. Tensions between Ukraine and Russia have also been exacerbated in recent weeks by the deepening Ukrainian energy crisis that Kiev believes Moscow has deliberately provoked.

“The build-up, coupled with energy blackmail, suggests a more aggressive Russian posture,” a Zelensky adviser told CNN.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said on Friday that the “scale” and “the size of the units we see” coming from Russia are “unusual”.

“We continue to monitor this closely, and as I said before, any escalation or aggressive action by Russia would be of great concern to the United States,” he said.

This story has been updated with additional reports.

CNN’s Jennifer Hansler, Michael Conte, Christian Sierra, Barbara Starr, Katie Bo Lillis and Zachary Cohen contributed to this report

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