Russia said its military is massed on Ukraine's doorstep and warned against further U.S. sanctions as a deal struck with Washington appeared to stall because of intransigence by Moscow-backed rebels in the former Soviet republic.
A threat by U.S. President Barack Obama that more sanctions would befall Moscow if the agreement, reached Thursday with Ukraine and the EU, failed was “absolutely unacceptable,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian television, according to AFP.
“Our Western colleagues are trying to push responsibility towards our side. But it must be underlined: it is a collective responsibility,” he said.
He pointedly declared that “there are troops close to the Ukrainian border”. “Some are based there, others have been sent as reinforcements due to the situation in Ukraine,” he added.
The comments appeared to be a warning shot to Washington that the situation could quickly degrade if Moscow were punished for a failed implementation of the accord.
The White House said it was watching Moscow to see if it is holding up its end of the deal.
“We expect and we will be watching whether Russia does or does not uphold its responsibility to use its very considerable influence to restrain and withdraw those irregular militia from the buildings and spaces that they've occupied,” said National Security Advisory Susan Rice.
Poland asks U.S. for 10,000 troops
Meanwhile, reports indicate the Pentagon may deploy more ground troops in Poland, although the number may be much smaller than what the eastern European NATO member wants to see. Washington is seeking to reassure allies amid fears of a Russian aggression.
Warsaw and Washington may announce the deployment of additional American troops in Poland next week, Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak said following a meeting with his U.S. counterpart, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon on Thursday.
He added that Poland would play a leading role in the NATO build-up of troops in Eastern Europe, “under U.S. patronage,” the Washington Post reported. He added that the U.S. needs to “re-pivot” back to Europe from Asia to counter “Russian aggression” in Ukraine.
Siemoniak earlier called on the Pentagon to deploy as many as 10,000 American troops in his country. Poland already hosts some 100 to 150 U.S. military servicing a battery of surface-to-air Patriot missiles, which was deployed in 2010 to give Warsaw more confidence for hosting elements of the NATO anti-ballistic missile shield in Europe.
The Polish minister’s calls were mirrored by NATO’s top military commander, Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, who said in an interview this month that one of the options the alliance has on the table is to move a 4,500-member combat brigade from Fort Hood, Texas, to Europe.
The Pentagon so far has not given any details about the planned deployment, saying it has multiple options under consideration. But a senior U.S. official told Fox news on Friday that around 130 soldiers may be sent to Poland on a rotational basis.
The U.S. military also announced on Friday the dispatch of a U.S. Army company of about 150 soldiers to Poland to take part in a two-week land-forces exercise.
NATO’s military response to the Ukrainian crisis was to deploy additional aircraft for patrols in European airspace and to send American warships into the Black Sea.
Relations between Russia and the West became strained after an armed coup in February deposed President Viktor Yanukovych following months of protests. Moscow considers the events to have been orchestrated by the EU and the U.S. and does not recognize the post-coup authorities as legitimate.
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