Russia called on the U.S. Monday to reconsider storing military hardware and as many as 5,000 troops across Eastern Europe and the Baltic States, Reuters reported. The remarks from the Kremlin’s Foreign Ministry accusing the U.S. of escalating tensions in Europe come as ceasefire violations continue in Eastern Ukraine.
“The current large-scale military preparations by the United States under a completely fabricated precursor of protecting its allies from a nonexistent ‘Russian threat’ does not only not correspond to the interests of peace and security in Europe, it simply once again confirms Washington’s goal of escalating tension and disrupting stability on the continent,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, according to Russian government-backed source Sputnik International.
Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014, several Eastern European and Baltic states called for an increased NATO presence in the region to counter Russian aggression and have also increased their own domestic military budgets. Russia has continued to deny direct military involvement in Ukraine with regular troops; however, Russian President Vladimir Putin said during his annual televised remarks with journalists this month that Russia had been working in Ukraine during the continuing conflict.
“We never said there weren’t people [in Ukraine] who work on resolving various issues there, including in the military sphere,” Putin said.
The Kremlin’s call for the U.S. to back down comes after a deadly weekend in Eastern Ukraine, where the conflict between government forces and Russian-backed separatists has taken the lives of over 9,000 people since the annexation. One Ukrainian solider and one civilian were killed over the weekend, and observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe came under fire while monitoring the ceasefire, reports said.
Both sides agreed to a Dec. 23 ceasefire to last through the holiday season and new year, and have now blamed each other for the continuing violations.