Buildup of Russian forces along Ukraine's border that has some talking of war

Dec 1, 2021
Originally published on December 10, 2021 8:34 am
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in the Baltic nation of Latvia today for meetings with NATO foreign ministers. Topping discussions - a military buildup by Russian forces along Ukraine's border that has some concerned about war. From Moscow, NPR's Charles Maynes has our story.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Secretary Blinken went into the NATO meetings warning Russia would face serious consequences from the U.S. if it took any action against Ukraine. He came out of them claiming the alliance was united in raising the stakes of Russian aggression.

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ANTONY BLINKEN: We made it clear to the Kremlin that we will respond resolutely, including with a range of high-impact economic measures that we've refrained from using in the past.

MAYNES: For weeks, U.S. intelligence has been warning of Russian forces, some 100,000 strong, gathering within striking distance of Ukraine. The Kremlin says it can place its troops where it likes inside its own territory, and they pose no threat. On Wednesday, it accused Ukraine of carrying out a military buildup, a charge Blinken framed as bait.

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BLINKEN: Just as we've been clear with Moscow, we're also urging Ukraine to continue to exercise restraint because, again, the Russian playbook is to claim provocation for something that they were planning to do all along.

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PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: Back in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin played brinksmanship, warning Russia would be forced to respond with a new generation of hypersonic weaponry if Ukraine allowed NATO missile systems on its soil within minutes of striking Moscow.

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PUTIN: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: This was Russia's red line, said Putin, who argued NATO's expansion to former communist bloc nations following the end of the Cold War and forced Moscow's recent militaristic posture.

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PUTIN: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: "Why did they insist on expanding NATO to our borders?" asked Putin.

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JENS STOLTENBERG: This idea that NATO support to a sovereign nation is a provocation is just wrong.

MAYNES: It was a question to which NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg had an answer, as he rejected the idea modern Russia could determine the fate of its neighbors by claiming a so-called sphere of influence.

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STOLTENBERG: Only Ukraine and 30 NATO allies - that decides when Ukraine is ready to join NATO. Russia has no veto. Russia has no say, and Russia has no right to establish a sphere of influence, trying to control their neighbors.

MAYNES: That's a debate Blinken is likely to hear more of when the secretary of state meets with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, in Sweden on Thursday. Charles Maynes, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.