• AFP-Jiji, Bloomberg


Ukraine called for swift action on Monday to "deter" its Soviet-era master Moscow from invasion, saying that a Russian military operation could be launched "in the blink of an eye."

Western countries have raised the alarm this month over reported Russian military activity near Ukraine, with the United States saying it has "real concerns" over a new troop buildup on the border.

"It's better to act now, not later" to "deter Russia," Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said at a briefing for foreign media.

"What we are seeing is very serious. Russia has deployed a large military force in regions close to Ukraine's state border."

He said that Moscow has gathered 115,000 troops around Ukraine, on the Crimean peninsula — which Russia annexed in 2014 — and in two eastern regions occupied by pro-Russian separatists.

Tanks, artillery, electronic warfare systems and air and naval forces had also been deployed, he added.

"If Russia decides to undertake a military operation, things will happen in literally the blink of an eye," the foreign minister told reporters.

But he added that Ukraine, whose army has become "incomparably stronger" than when breakaway fighters in 2014 seized the Donetsk and Lugansk regions in a simmering conflict that has claimed more than 13,000 lives, would "fight back."

Kyiv and its Western allies accuse Russia of sending troops and arms to support the separatists, claims Moscow denies.

After an uptick in violence at the beginning of the year, Russia gathered around 100,000 troops on Ukraine's borders in the spring, raising fears of a major escalation.

Russia later announced a pullback but both Ukraine and its ally the United States said at the time the withdrawal was limited.

Ukraine, the United States, NATO and the European Union have raised the alarm about new Russian troop movements in recent weeks and warned about a possible invasion.

Moscow has dismissed the claims, accused Kyiv of "provocations" and blamed Washington for escalating tensions in the region.

In Washington, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby called Russian troop movements "a continuing concern" and pledged support for Ukrainian forces, but downplayed any expectation of a direct U.S. military intervention.

"We continue to see movement, we continue to see additions" to their forces near the Ukrainian border, said Kirby.

"We're watching it very closely," he told reporters, adding: "We don't envision any U.S. military intervention in this conflict."

Russia said Monday that it’s making preparations for a conversation between President Vladimir Putin and U.S. counterpart Joe Biden, their first since tensions erupted over the border buildup.

There’s no agreement yet on timing, though the Kremlin is hoping for a call before the end of the year, according to Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Biden said Friday that he will likely talk with Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy soon.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken may meet his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Stockholm Dec. 2 or 3 at a meeting of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said.

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