Russia's top diplomat on Monday angrily rejected US allegations that it was preparing a pretext to invade Ukraine as Russian troops have remained concentrated near border.
The White House said Friday that US intelligence officials had concluded that Russia had already deployed operatives to rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine to carry out acts of sabotage there and blame them on Ukraine in a "false-flag operation" to create a pretext for possible invasion.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dismissed US claim as "total disinformation." He reaffirmed that Russia expects a written response this week from the US and its allies to Moscow's request for binding guarantees that NATO will not embrace Ukraine or any other ex-Soviet nations, or station its forces and weapons there.
Washington and its allies firmly rejected Moscow's demands during last week's Russia-US negotiations in Geneva and a related NATO-Russia meeting in Brussels, which were held as an estimated 100,000 Russian troops with tanks and other heavy weapons are massed near Ukraine in what West fears might be a prelude to an invasion. A delegation of US senators is visiting Ukraine to emphasise US support for country."Our bipartisan congressional delegation sends a clear message to global community: the United States stands in unwavering support of our Ukrainian partners to defend their sovereignty and in face of persistent Russian aggression," Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, said in a statement.
Speaking Monday on a visit to Kyiv, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock warned that "any further escalation would carry a high price for Russian regime - economic, political and strategic" and emphasised need to continue negotiations.
"We are prepared to have a serious dialogue with Russia, because diplomacy is only way to defuse this highly dangerous situation at moment," she said.
Baerbock said Germany has offered to send cybersecurity specialists to Ukraine to help investigate last week's cyberattacks, which Ukrainian authorities blamed on Russia. At same time, she noted that Germany hasn't changed its refusal to provide it with weapons.
"We made clear that we will do everything to avoid escalating crisis," she said. Ukrainian officials have warned that Russia could launch an attack from various directions, including from territory of its ally Belarus. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has increasingly relied on Kremlin's support amid Western sanctions over a crackdown on domestic protests, said that Russia and Belarus will hold massive military drills next month.