Merkel and Biden back calls for Russia to halt Ukraine border activity

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FILED - German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Joe Biden in Berlin on February 1, 2013. Photo: picture alliance / dpa
FILED - German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Joe Biden in Berlin on February 1, 2013. Photo: picture alliance / dpa

(dpa) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Joe Biden are backing calls for Russia to halt its troop movements along the border with Ukraine.

“The chancellor and the president agreed it is necessary to demand Russia draws down its latest troop reinforcements in order to de-escalate the situation,” German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said Wednesday evening after the two leaders held a phone call.

The US estimates that Moscow has deployed between 15,000 and 25,000 soldiers to the Crimean peninsula and the Ukrainian border.

Ministers from 30 NATO member states met for a video conference earlier Wednesday and discussed the amassing of Russian troops on the Ukraine border, which has been fuelling concern over a renewed flare-up of tensions in the region.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has repeatedly said this is the largest massing of Russian troops since the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Stoltenberg said the NATO members are calling on Russia to “stop its pattern of aggressive provocations.”

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin indicated there could be further arms deliveries to Ukraine. He said Ukraine has been supplied with equipment and training for some time and the US would continue such support as needed.

Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula after a controversial referendum in 2014. Western governments still consider Crimea to be part of Ukrainian territory.

Parts of Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions – collectively known as Donbas – along the Russian border are controlled by rebels supported by Moscow.

The reasons for the recent escalation are not entirely clear.

At NATO, one theory being discussed is that Russian leader Vladimir Putin wants to test how far the new US administration’s support of Ukraine will go.

The possibility that Russia could plan a major offensive with insurgents in eastern Ukraine to secure access to the North Crimean water canal as far as the Dnieper River is seen as one of the worst scenarios.

Moscow maintains that Putin is only reacting to provocations from Kiev and has rejected the allegations of troop deployments.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu described the transfer of thousands of soldiers this week as an exercise.

US diplomat Courtney Austrian told the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on Wednesday that Russia’s suggestion the border activities were linked to its Zapad exercises were “dubious.”

Moscow should invite foreign representatives to visit the terrorities, she said.

“We again call on Russia to explain the size, composition, an

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