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Russia launches military exercises near Ukraine day after talks with US

Russia staged live-fire exercises with troops and tanks near the Ukrainian border on Tuesday, sounding a downbeat note over the prospect of talks with the United States that Washington hopes will remove the possible threat of an invasion of Ukraine.

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A day after talks in Geneva the US side urged Russia to pull back an estimated 100,000 troops from near the Ukrainian border. Moscow said about 3,000 servicemen had started combat training including mock battles in four regions of southwestern Russia.

The drills suggested that the Kremlin has no intention of easing the military pressure that has brought the US to the negotiating table, where Moscow has presented demands for sweeping security guarantees from the West. Russia has repeatedly said it has no intention of attacking Ukraine but that it has the right to deploy its forces as it deems fit on its own territory.

Moscow insists that Washington and its allies rule out the possibility that Ukraine could ever join NATO, which promised as far back as 2008 to admit Kyiv one day. It also wants NATO to remove forces and weaponry from ex-communist countries that have joined since the end of the Cold War.

Washington has said it cannot accept these demands, although it is willing to engage in other aspects of Russia’s proposals by discussing missile deployments or limits on the size of military exercises. The NATO alliance has no immediate plans to admit Ukraine but says Russia cannot dictate its relations with other sovereign states.

“Russia does not have the right to vote on Ukraine’s NATO membership. This is a red line that neither Kyiv nor our partners will cross,” said Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

Let’s call a spade a spade. Putin demands the U.S., NATO & the EU to accept Russia’s sphere of influence over sovereign neighboring states. But the Cold War is over, and so are spheres of influence. Putin’s demands are illegitimate and harmful to international peace and security.

— Dmytro Kuleba (@DmytroKuleba) January 9, 2022

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“No matter how many times Russian diplomats go around in circles, the starting line for discussing security guarantees in the Euro-Atlantic space should begin with Russia’s de-escalation of the security situation near the Ukrainian border and Russia’s withdrawal from Donbas and Crimea,” he added.

Moscow seized the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, and Russian-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian troops in the easterly Donbas region since, in a war that has killed some 15,000 people.

Ukraine was under Moscow’s influence for centuries, including as part of the Soviet Union, and President Vladimir Putin has said the prospect of NATO admitting it as a member or stationing weapons there that could strike Russia, is a “red line.”

US President Joe Biden warned Putin in two conversations last month that any new Russian aggression would trigger severe economic costs in the form of unprecedented sanctions. Putin responded that such moves would be a colossal mistake and lead to a complete rupture in relations.

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