Russia: Ambassador to UK denies Ukraine ‘invasion’ plan
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Tensions between Moscow and Kiev have been escalating following a build-up of Russian troops along the border and clashes in eastern Ukraine between the army and pro-Russian separatists. Now Russian state media has reported the Kremlin intends to close parts of the Black Sea to foreign military and official ships for at least six months.
It is believed Ukrainian ports in the Sea of Azov could be blocked, provoking the US to accuse Moscow of “destabilising” Ukraine.
US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said: “This represents yet another unprovoked escalation in Moscow’s ongoing campaign to undermine and destabilise Ukraine.
“This development is particularly troubling amid credible reports of Russian troop buildup in occupied Crimea and around Ukraine’s borders, now at levels not seen since Russia’s invasion in 2014.”
According to reports, four Russian Ropucha class ships have gathered in the Black Sea, joining more than 15 other war vessels.
A Ukrainian officer said: “Ukrainian military take these ships very seriously.
“We estimate one of the Russian scenarios could be an amphibious and air assault from occupied Crimea to seize water supply facilities in south Ukraine to provide water to Crimea.”
Military analyst Bruce Jones warned it was “extremely rare” for amphibious ships like the Ropuchas to join other military craft.
Mr Jones said: “It is unprecedented for such a large number of landing ships from so many different Russian fleets to assemble.
“Vessels such as these were deployed during the 2008 invasion of Georgia to great effect and were used to land special forces and commandos.
“This happened on Georgian beaches and it happened very quickly.”
Earlier this week, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell confirmed there were more than 100,000 troops along the border and in Crimea.
He said: “It is the highest Russian military deployment at Ukrainian borders ever.
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“The risk of further escalation, it’s evident.”
According to reports, British warships will sail for the Black Sea in May in a bid to show solidarity with Ukraine and Britain’s NATO allies.
The Sunday Times reported one Type 45 destroyer armed with anti-aircraft missiles and an anti-submarine Type 23 frigate will leave the Royal Navy’s carrier task group.
RAF F-35B Lightning stealth jets and Merlin submarine-hunting helicopters will also stand ready on HMS Queen Elizabeth.
A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: “The UK and our international allies are unwavering in our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Earlier this month, US President Joe Biden reaffirmed Washington’s support for Kiev’s pro-Western government.
He urged Russia to “de-escalate tensions” but also offered to hold his first face-to-face talk with Mr Putin on “the full range of issues facing the US and Russia”.
Konstantin Kosachev, the chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the Russian parliament’s upper house, said the conversation was a “very important step forward”.
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