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Top Ukrainian diplomat seeks stronger support from West amid Russia troop buildup

Published: Updated:

Ukraine’s top diplomat asked Thursday for stronger Western backing, saying “words of support aren’t enough” amid escalating tensions in the country’s east and a Russian troop buildup across the border.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, speaking after talks with his counterparts from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, asked the Baltic nations to reach out to other European Union and NATO members about offering “practical assistance” to Kyiv.

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More than 14,000 people have died in seven years of fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine that erupted after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. Efforts to reach a political settlement have stalled and violations of a shaky truce have become increasingly frequent in recent weeks.

Ukraine and the West also have sounded alarms about the concentration of troops along Russia’s western border, a buildup that the US and NATO have described as the largest since 2014.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky is heading Friday to Paris to discuss the tensions with French President Emmanuel Macron.

Russia has argued that it’s free to deploy its forces wherever it deems necessary on its territory. The Russian defense minister charged earlier this week that the buildup was a response to security threats posed by NATO forces near Russia’s borders.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Thursday dismissed Western concerns about the Russian troop buildup as a “propaganda campaign” and urged the West to encourage Kyiv to de-escalate tensions in the east.

Kremlin officials have warned Ukraine against trying to use force to reclaim control of the rebel east, saying that Russia may intervene to protect Russian civilians in the region.

Amid the recent tensions, the United States informed Turkey that two US warships would sail to the Black Sea on April 14 and April 15 and stay there until for about three weeks. But Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Thursday that the US Embassy had notified Ankara that the two warships wouldn’t be making the crossing.

The US Navy ships have made regular visits to the Black Sea in past years, vexing Moscow. Earlier this week, a senior Russian diplomat described the planned US ships’ deployment to the Black Sea as “openly provocative.”

The three Baltic nations said Thursday’s visit by their top diplomats to Kyiv was intended to show support for Ukraine and send a warning message to Russia.

“This visit is intended to show that we stand in solidarity with Ukraine (and) strongly support this country and its right to self-defense,” said Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis, adding that it was also to “demonstrate to Russia that further provocative actions can have consequences.”

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