MOSCOW (Dispatches) -- The Kremlin said on Wednesday that Russia would keep military forces near the country’s border with Ukraine for as long as it saw fit and that they posed no external threat.
Ukraine on Tuesday called on NATO to lay out a path for it to join the Western military alliance, drawing an immediate rebuke from Moscow.
Russia on Tuesday announced the start of mass military drills. More than 4,000 training exercises will be held in military districts across Russia in April, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said, in comments posted on the ministry’s website.
Russia denies it’s threatening Ukraine and accuses the government in Kyiv of preparing a military offensive to regain control of the eastern conflict zone.
NATO membership won’t help Ukraine solve "its internal problems,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. "From our point of view, this will further aggravate the situation,” he said.
Voladimyr Zelenskiy urged greater pressure on Russia in a phone call with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Tuesday, a day after he spoke with UK Premier Boris Johnson. Ukraine’s foreign and defense ministers held talks with their U.S. and UK counterparts last week about tensions in the eastern Donbas region, while Zelenskiy’s chief of staff spoke to U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.
The U.S. has provided Ukraine with military equipment, including Javelin anti-tank missiles. In his first official phone call as president with Zelenskiy last week, Joe Biden pledged to stand with Ukraine against what he called Russian "aggression.”
On Tuesday, however, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said questions about NATO membership should be handled by the alliance. "That’s a decision for NATO to make,” Psaki said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov rounded on Western nations for backing what he called Kyiv’s "absolutely unacceptable actions and statements.”
The U.S. has reportedly delivered three military cargoes to Ukraine in the last fortnight.
On March 25, 350 tonnes of cargo were delivered to Odessa by the ship Ocean Glory. The shipment included 35 Humvee SUVs, the agency Ukrinform reported.
Local news outlets have reported further deliveries. On April 2, a U.S. Air Force C-17A Globemaster III military transport aircraft flew to Kyiv from the U.S. base in Ramstein, Germany, according to the Odessa newspaper Dumskaya.
Two days later, another C-17A Globemaster III, which can carry 102 troops and 77 tons of cargo, landed in the western city of Lviv, the newspaper reported.
At the beginning of March, the Department of Defense announced that the U.S. would give $125 million of military aid to Kyiv in the 2021 fiscal year.