© Reuters. U.S. State Secretary Antony Blinken and Latvian President Egils Levits pose for media in Riga, Latvia November 30, 2021. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins/Pool
By Sabine Siebold and Humeyra Pamuk
RIGA (Reuters) -The United States warned on Tuesday of “serious consequences” for any renewed Russian aggression as the Western military alliance NATO met to discuss Moscow’s intentions for massing troops on the border with Ukraine.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was due to brief his 29 NATO counterparts on the U.S. intelligence picture on the group’s eastern flank and in Ukraine, which is not a member.
At a news conference in Latvia before the meeting, Blinken expressed alarm at the “unusual” Russian troop movements.
“Any escalatory actions by Russia would be a great concern to the United States as they would to Latvia and any renewed aggression would trigger serious consequences,” he said.
Two Russian troop build-ups this year on Ukraine’s borders have alarmed the West. In May, Russian troops there numbered 100,000, the largest since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, Western officials say.
Moscow has dismissed as inflammatory Ukraine’s suggestions that it is preparing for an attack, said it does not threaten anyone, and defended its right to deploy troops as it wishes.
‘RUSSIA’S MALIGN ACTIVITY’
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said ahead of the talks that Russia’s intentions were unclear.
“We see heavy capabilities, we see armoured units, drones, electronic warfare systems and we see tens of thousands combat-ready Russian troops,” he added.
NATO member Britain echoed Blinken’s warning.
“We will stand with our fellow democracies against Russia’s malign activity. We will support Ukraine and stability in the Western Balkans,” said British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.
“Any suggestion that NATO is provoking the Russians is clearly false. Any action by Russia to undermine the freedom and democracy that our partners enjoy would be a strategic mistake.”
Adding to concerns, Belarus on Monday announced joint military drills with Russia on its border with Ukraine and accused NATO of building up offensive capabilities near its territory.
President Alexander Lukashenko, whom the West accuses of seeking to divide the European Union by sending Middle Eastern migrants to the border of NATO members Poland, Latvia and Lithuania, warned Minsk would not sit on the sidelines in case of war. nL8N2SK4FI]
“It is clear whose side Belarus will be on,” he said, referring to Moscow, whose financial and political backing helped him weather mass public protests in August, 2020.
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