UKRAINE OFFICIAL asks stronger backing from West as Russian troops mass at border.
KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s top diplomat asked Thursday for stronger Western backing, saying “words of support aren’t enough” as tensions escalate in the country’s east and Russian troops mass across the border.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, speaking after talks with his counterparts from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, asked the Baltic nations to reach out to other European Union and NATO members about offering “practical assistance” to Kyiv.
More than 14,000 people have died in seven years of fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine that flared after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. Efforts to reach a political settlement have stalled and violations of a shaky truce have become increasingly frequent in recent weeks across Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland known as the Donbas.
Ukraine and the West also have sounded alarms about the concentration of troops along Russia’s border, a buildup that the U.S. and NATO have described as the largest since 2014.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy heads to Paris today to discuss the tensions with French President Emmanuel Macron. At the end of their lunch, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will join them for a trilateral video call.
Zelenskyy said after chairing a meeting of Ukraine’s security council that the discussions in Paris will be important for preparing the “Normandy format” talks involving the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany.
Their last meeting in Paris in December 2019 helped ease tensions but failed to make any progress on a political settlement.
European Council President Charles Michel expressed the 27-nation bloc’s “unwavering support” for Ukraine, saying in a statement after the call with Zelenskyy that Russia’s moves on the border “represent threatening and destabilizing activities.”
Russia has argued that it’s free to deploy its forces wherever it deems necessary on its territory. The Russian defense minister claimed earlier this week that the buildup was a response to security threats posed by NATO forces near Russia’s borders.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Thursday dismissed Western concerns about the troop buildup as a “propaganda campaign” and called on the West to encourage Kyiv to deescalate tensions in the east.
“Russia isn’t interested in fueling a civil war in Donbas and will do everything to protect its citizens and ensure peace,” Zakharova said. She urged Ukraine’s Western allies to stop “encouraging the Kyiv regime to engage in disastrous bloody adventures” by providing military assistance and political support.
DOUBTS ON EU
Meanwhile, the European Union faced questions Thursday about its commitment to Ukraine in times of need after the president of the EU’s executive commission turned down an invitation from Zelenskyy to attend the 30th anniversary celebration of the country’s independence.
Zelenskyy invited Europeean Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to travel to Ukraine in August. Her Cabinet chief, Bjoern Seibert, wrote to decline under his own signature, citing von der Leyen’s heavy schedule. The letter was leaked to journalists.
European Commission chief spokesman Eric Mamer said the letter had not yet been sent to Ukrainian authorities. He said it should have been signed by von der Leyen but was written while she was abroad.
Mamer reiterated the EU’s support, saying, “The commission and the European Union are side by side with Ukraine.”
Von der Leyen hopes to organize a meeting with Zelenskyy ahead of the Ukrainian independence commemorations and has spoken with him three times since she took office in Brussels in December 2019.