Following weekend reports of increasing Russian troop levels along the border with Ukraine, officials in Kiev on Monday said Moscow has ignored pleas to discuss the situation, while the Kremlin denied knowledge of such requests — and made pointed commentary about the United States.
The Russian troop movements since March have spawned speculation and jitters in Ukraine, where authorities draw parallels to similar movements that preceded Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea.
Currently, Russia has stationed more than 40,000 troops in Crimea, and another 40,000 near the eastern border with Ukraine, according to Yulia Mendel, a spokesperson for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Additionally, recent videos and photographs on social media appear to show a menacing buildup of force, while Zelensky's office says that Russia soon will double the group that has massed near the border.
Ukraine on Monday claimed that Russia rebuffed attempts for the two countries' leaders to talk directly.
In accordance with procedure, "Ukraine sent an official request to the Russian side to provide an explanation of Russia's large-scale military build-up over the last days along the border with Ukraine and in the temporarily occupied territories," the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry on April 12 announced. "Regretfully, the Russian side refused to provide substantial information upon the request, claiming that it is not conducting such activities."
Mendel noted that Zelensky's office appealed to speak directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but "we have not received an answer yet and we very much hope that this is not a refusal of dialogue."
In Moscow, Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he was "not aware of any [such] requests made lately," according to Russian media.
Concern about the situation has spread beyond Ukraine.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday spoke with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg about the issue, according to the State Department.
"Secretary Blinken and Secretary General Stoltenberg discussed a range of issues, including the immediate need for Russia to cease its aggressive military buildup along Ukraine's borders and in occupied Crimea," spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
The international community on Monday ramped up its own requests for Russia to stand down. In a united front, the G7 foreign ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union issued a joint statement affirming support for Ukraine.
"These large-scale troop movements, without prior notification, represent threatening and destabilising activities," the group wrote. "We call on Russia to cease its provocations and to immediately de-escalate tensions in line with its international obligations."
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, while visiting Egypt, said that queries about military activity in Ukraine more appropriately should be directed not at Moscow, but at Washington.
"Questions are being asked about what Russia is doing on the border with Ukraine," Lavrov told reporters. "The answer is very simple. We live there, it's our country. But what is the United States doing thousands of kilometers from its own territory with its warships and troops in Ukraine?"
The diplomat dismissed "these calls for putting an end to some ephemeral aggressive actions and threats and warnings that some price will have to be paid."
Zelensky's office said it appreciated the international efforts to contain the border situation.
"If Russia refuses to offer reasonable solutions, we and the entire international community will clearly see who is to blame for the destabilization of the situation," said Roman Mashovets, the deputy head of the Office of the President of Ukraine.
The Russian Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment from Just the News.
The Kremlin, meanwhile, announced that large columns of armored units soon will begin rolling through Moscow's Red Square in preparation for upcoming ceremonies to commemorate the 76th anniversary of Russia's World War II victory over Nazi Germany. The annual May 9 parade will feature some 190 combat vehicles, along with artillery, a multiple rocket launcher, and the Iskander-M tactical missile system.
More than 12,000 troops will take part in the parade, the Kremlin said.