US expresses concern about rising Russian-Ukrainian tensions

·2 min read

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration on Wednesday expressed concern about what it called escalations of Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian forces have been fighting Russian-backed separatists since 2014.

John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said the U.S. government was aware of reports from the Ukrainian military of Russian troop movements on the border, and he noted that the top U.S. military officer, Gen. Mark Milley, had made phone calls Wednesday to his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts.

Kirby said the escalations include violations of a July 2020 ceasefire, brokered by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, that led to the deaths of four Ukrainian soldiers in the eastern part of the country on March 26 and the wounding of two others. The Ukrainian military said the four were killed in a mortar attack it blamed on Russian troops. Russia denies having a military presence in the region.

The OSCE's civilian Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine has reported hundreds of ceasefire violations in recent days, including 493 on March 26 in the Donetsk region, mostly small-arms fire.

“Russia’s destabilizing actions undermine the de-escalation in tensions that had been achieved through an OSCE-brokered agreement back in July of last year,” Kirby said. “Additionally, we are aware of Ukrainian military reports concerning Russian troop movements on Ukraine’s borders.”

Kirby said Washington is discussing these concerns with NATO allies, and the State Department said it will also “reach out to Russia to request an explanation for these developments.” Kirby noted that President Joe Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, spoke on Monday to his Ukrainian counterpart to express U.S. “unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and Euro-Atlantic aspirations in the face of continued Russian aggression.”

Milley's office announced his calls to his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts but provided no details. Kirby said it was safe to assume that Milley raised U.S. concerns about escalating tensions and cease-fire violations.

Robert Burns, The Associated Press