Russia says troop buildup near Ukraine is a response to NATO

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Russian Defense Ministry Press Service

In this handout photo released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu speaks as he visits a naval base in in Gadzhiyevo, Russia, Tuesday, April 13, 2021. Shoigu on Tuesday described a massive military buildup in western Russia as part of drills intended to check the armed forces' readiness amid the threats posed by NATO. (Vadim Savitsky/Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

MOSCOW – Russia's defense minister said Tuesday that the country's massive military buildup in the west was part of readiness drills amid what he described as threats from NATO.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the maneuvers in western Russia that have worried neighboring Ukraine and brought warnings from NATO would last for another two weeks.

Speaking at a meeting with the top military brass, Shoigu said the ongoing exercise was a response to what he claimed were continuous efforts by the United States and its NATO allies to beef up their forces near Russia's borders.

In the past three weeks, the Russian military has deployed two armies and three airborne formations to western regions “as a response to the alliance's military activities threatening Russia,” the defense minister said.

“The troops have shown their full readiness to fulfill tasks to ensure the country's security,” he said.

The U.S. and its allies have sounded alarm about the concentration of Russian troops along the border with Ukraine and increasing violations of a cease-fire in eastern Ukraine, where Russia-baсked separatists and Ukrainian forces have been locked in a conflict since Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

More than 14,000 people have died in fighting in eastern Ukraine, and efforts to negotiate a political settlement have stalled. The chief of NATO on Tuesday called the recent Russian deployment the largest concentration of troops near the Ukraine border since 2014.

The White House said U.S. President Joe Biden voiced concern over the Russian buildup and “called on Russia to de-escalate tensions,” during a phone call Tuesday with Russian President Vladimir Putin.