WASHINGTON- The United States finds reports of Russian military movements on Ukraine border credible, has asked Moscow to explain the provocations and is ready to engage in the situation, said the U.S. State Department on Monday.
The reported Russian army buildup and movements bordering eastern Ukraine have become the latest point of tension in icy U.S.-Russian relations less than three months after U.S. president Joe Biden took office.
Ned Price told a news briefing that the United States would be concerned by any effort by Russia to intimidate Ukraine, whether it had occurred on Russian territory or within Ukraine.
He declined to say whether the United States believed Russia was preparing to invade the former Soviet republic neighboring Russia.
Later on Monday, a state department spokesperson told Reuters that the United States is open to engagement with Russia on the situation and described as credible reports of Russian troop movements on the Ukrainian border and Crimea, the peninsula seized by Russia in 2014.
The movements, the spokesperson said, were preceded by violations of a July 2020 ceasefire that wounded four Ukrainian soldiers and killed four others.
We ask Russia to refrain from escalatory actions, the spokesperson said.
The comments followed a telephone call on Friday in which Biden assured his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelinskiy, of unwavering support in Ukraine's confrontation with Russia-backed separatists holding parts of the Donbas region of the country.
On Monday, Russia dismissed that Russian military movements posed a threat to Ukraine and denied fears of a buildup even as it warned that it would respond to new Ukrainian sanctions against Russian companies.
Jen Psaki told reporters that recent escalations of Russian aggression and escalation in Eastern Ukraine are something we are monitoring closely.
The Biden call with Zelinskiy came after the NATO alliance expressed concern over what is said to be a large Russian military buildup on Russia's side of the border with eastern Ukraine.
We 've asked Russia for an explanation of these provocations, said Price. But what we have signaled with our Ukrainian partners is a message of reassurance.
Pressed on whether the United States viewed troop movements on Ukraine's side of the border as a means of intimidation of Russia, Price responded: Of course, the Russians have wanted for quite some time to intimidate and bully their neighbors.
Russia, Western countries and NATO accuse Ukraine of sending troops and heavy weapons to prop up proxies who seized a swath of the eastern Donbas region in 2014. Moscow says that it provides only political and humanitarian support to the separatists.