Russia denies plot to invade Ukraine, claims NATO threats

Russia on Friday pushed back on suspicions that a military buildup near its border with Ukraine was indicative of a looming invasion, claiming it was responding to so-called NATO threats.

“Russia doesn’t threaten anyone,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters during a conference call, according to The Associated Press. “The movement of troops on our territory shouldn’t be a cause for anyone’s concern.”

About 90,000 Russian troops are stationed on its western border after completing military drills, with units about 160 miles north of the Ukrainian border, according to Kyiv's defense ministry.

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Pentagon and State Department officials earlier this week said they were closely watching the unusual Kremlin military activity, and the U.S. has reportedly told European officials that Russia may be weighing a potential invasion.

On Friday, Peskov dismissed such reports as a “hollow and unfounded attempt to incite tensions,” asserting that Moscow was simply responding to “increasing provocations” near its borders.

“We take measures to ensure our security when our opponents take defiant action near our borders,” Peskov said, highlighting a U.S. naval deployment to the Black Sea and frequent U.S. and NATO intelligence flights. “We can’t stay indifferent to that; we must be on our guard.”

The Western concerns are not without merit, as Russia in 2014 annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and ever since has backed a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine, with more than 140,000 people killed in related fighting.

Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenUS calls on North Korea to halt 'unlawful and destabilizing' missile launches Wendy Sherman takes leading role as Biden's 'hard-nosed' Russia negotiator Pacific tsunami threat recedes, volcano ash hinders response MORE shared his concerns on Wednesday while he met with Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba in Washington.

“We don't have clarity into Moscow's intentions, but we do know its playbook,” Blinken said. “Our concern is that Russia may make the serious mistake of attempting to rehash what it undertook back in 2014, when it amassed forces along the border, crossed into sovereign Ukrainian territory and did so claiming — falsely — that it was provoked.”

Blinken also stressed that U.S. commitment to Ukraine’s security is “ironclad.”