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U.S. General Calls Ukrainian, Russian Counterparts Over Reported Russian Troop Movements

By RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service March 31, 2021

A top U.S. general called his counterparts in Russia and Ukraine on March 31 amid reports of a buildup of Russian troops along Ukraine's border and in Crimea, the Pentagon confirmed on March 31.

Defense Department spokesman John Kirby confirmed that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley called top military leaders in Russia and Ukraine and said the Pentagon is aware of Ukrainian military reports concerning Russian troop movements near Ukraine's borders.

"Russia's destabilizing actions undermine the de-escalation intentions that had been achieved through an OSCE-brokered agreement back in July of last year," Kirby told a briefing, referring to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and a cease-fire it brokered with Ukraine and Russia.

"We are discussing our concerns about this increase in tensions and cease-fire violations and regional tensions with NATO allies," Kirby said.

Kirby referred questions about the specifics of Milley's call to his office but said: "I suspect that the outreach by the chairman today…with his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts certainly covered [the Pentagon's] concerns."

Milley spoke with General Valery Gerasimov, the Russian Armed Forces chief of staff, and General Ruslan Khomchak, chief of the general staff of the Armed Forces, according to French news agency AFP, quoting an unidentified U.S. official. Russia's Ministry of Defense confirmed the call, AFP said.

Canada also expressed concerned about reports of a Russian buildup of forces and is watching the situation closely, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been briefed on the matter, which Canada views as "significant and concerning," the unidentified source said.

A force of 200 Canadian military trainers has been based in western Ukraine since September 2015.

Khomchak on March 30 accused Moscow of conducting a buildup near the Ukraine-Russia border and reiterated claims that pro-Moscow separatists continue to violate the July cease-fire.

The buildup is taking place "under the guise of preparing for strategic exercises" and is in addition to thousands of troops in combat brigades, regiments, and supply units deployed in the occupied Donbass with the support of Russian regular troops, the Ukrainian army chief said in an interview with Voice of America.

"The Armed Forces of Ukraine respond accordingly to such actions of our eastern neighbor," Khomchak said. "We are preparing for all possible provocations and reactions to the actions of the enemy."

Khomchak first made the accusations of a military buildup in a speech to the Verkhovna Rada (parliament) on March 30.

The comments drew a response from Russian President Vladimir Putin during a video conference call with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Kremlin said on March 31.

Putin placed the blame for tensions on Ukraine and urged Kyiv to enter into direct dialogue with local separatist forces.

"The Russian side expressed serious concern over the escalation of armed confrontation that is being provoked by Ukraine along the line of contact and its effective refusal to implement the agreements of July 2020…to strengthen the ceasefire regime," the Kremlin said in a statement late on March 30.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, in comments to reporters on March 31, said Putin has not drawn any "red lines" regarding the situation in southeastern Ukraine.

"In general, the issues on the agenda were the absence of any alternatives to compliance with the Minsk accords and the problem situation that has taken shape in connection with the non-compliance with these agreements," Peskov said, according to TASS, referring to a 2015 agreement brokered by France and Germany.

A statement from the Elysee indicated that during the video conference call Macron and Merkel urged Putin to take steps to de-escalate.

"The need for Russia to make a determined commitment to stabilize the cease-fire in Ukraine and work out a way out of the crisis while respecting the Minsk Agreements was underlined. "

Germany, Russia, and France are part of the so-called Normandy Format that also includes Ukraine and that was set up to try to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Fighting between government forces and Russia-backed separatists has killed more than 13,000 people since April 2014.

The Ukrainian military said last week that four of its soldiers were killed in shelling in the country's east in the latest violence. It said the shelling on March 26 targeted Ukrainian forces and was the latest violation of a cease-fire agreed in July 2020.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and TASS

Source: ukrainian-russian-military-buildup- border/31180563.html

Copyright (c) 2021. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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