The United States has asked Moscow to explain "provocations" on the border with Ukraine, the U.S. State Department said on Monday, amid reports of a large Russian military buildup.
State Department spokesman Ned Price told a news briefing that the United States would be concerned by any effort by Moscow to intimidate Ukraine whether it occurred on Russian territory or within Ukraine.
Price's comments followed a telephone call on Friday in which U.S. President Joe Biden reassured his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelinskiy, of "unwavering support" in Ukraine's confrontation with Russia-backed separatists in the east of the country.
Russia on Monday denied that Russian military movements posed a threat to Ukraine and dismissed fears of a buildup even as it warned it would respond to new Ukrainian sanctions against Russian companies.
Biden's call with Zelinskiy came after the NATO alliance expressed concern over what is said was a large Russian military buildup on Russia's side of the border with eastern Ukraine.
"We've asked Russia for an explanation of these provocations," Price said. "But more importantly, what we have signaled with our Ukrainian partners is a message of reassurance."
Pressed on whether the United States viewed troop movements on Russia's side of the border as intimidation of Ukraine, Price responded, "Of course, the Russians have for quite some time sought to intimidate and bully their neighbors."
Ukraine, Western countries and NATO accuse Russia of sending troops and heavy weapons to prop up proxies who seized a swath of the eastern Donbas region in 2014. Moscow says it provides only humanitarian and political support to the separatists.
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