MOSCOW (Dispatches) -- Russia said on Tuesday it was watching with great concern after the United States put 8,500 troops on alert to be ready to deploy to Europe in case of an escalation in the Ukraine crisis.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused Washington of fuelling tensions over Ukraine, saying the crisis is being driven by U.S. and NATO actions.
NATO said on Monday it was putting forces on standby and reinforcing eastern Europe with more ships and fighter jets. Russia denounced the moves as Western “hysteria”.
Peskov said President Vladimir Putin would talk this week to his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, who is also planning to speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Russia is awaiting a written U.S. response this week to its list of security demands it has presented.
On Tuesday, Russia launched new military exercises near Ukraine and in Crimea as it accused the United States of ratcheting up tensions by putting several thousand of its own troops on alert.
The Russian military said it had launched drills involving 6,000 troops in the south and in the Crimean peninsula which joined Moscow in 2014.
The drills involve combat firing exercises with fighter jets, bombers, anti-aircraft systems and ships from the Black Sea and Caspian fleets, the ministry said.
The Pentagon said it had put 8,500 troops on standby for deployment in support of NATO, while the alliance said it was sending ships and jets to bolster eastern Europe’s defenses.
Russia denies it has any plans to invade Ukraine. Moscow has instead accused the West of increasing tensions with deployments and support for Ukraine, a former Soviet republic.
A series of talks in various European cities this month have failed to ease tensions, though U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov agreed at a meeting in Geneva on Friday to keep talking.
The United States has promised to provide written answers to Moscow’s demands this week, but has rejected calls for a ban on possible NATO expansion as a non-starter.
The crisis has laid bare divisions in the West, with some European Union members appearing less willing to take severe action against Russia, which supplies about 40 percent of the bloc’s natural gas supplies.
The new government in EU economic powerhouse Germany in particular has faced criticism from Kyiv over its refusal to send defensive weapons to Ukraine, as well as hesitating over one of the harshest economic sanctions under discussion -- cutting Moscow from the global SWIFT payments system.