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Russia Denies Looking to Invade Ukraine01/18 06:28

   Russia's top diplomat angrily rejected U.S. allegations that Moscow was 
preparing a pretext to invade Ukraine, as Russian troops that are amassed near 
the Ukraine border launched more drills Monday.

   MOSCOW (AP) -- Russia's top diplomat angrily rejected U.S. allegations that 
Moscow was preparing a pretext to invade Ukraine, as Russian troops that are 
amassed near the Ukraine border launched more drills Monday.

   The White House said Friday that U.S. intelligence officials had concluded 
that Russia had already deployed operatives to rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine 
to carry out acts of sabotage there and blame them on Ukraine in a "false-flag 
operation" to create a pretext for possible invasion.

   Speaking to reporters Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov 
dismissed the U.S. claim as "total disinformation."

   He reaffirmed that Russia expects a written response this week from the U.S. 
and its allies to Moscow's request for binding guarantees that NATO will not 
embrace Ukraine or any other ex-Soviet nations, or station its forces and 
weapons there.

   Washington and its allies firmly rejected Moscow's demands during last 
week's Russia-U.S. negotiations in Geneva and a related NATO-Russia meeting in 
Brussels, which were held as an estimated 100,000 Russian troops with tanks and 
other heavy weapons are massed near Ukraine in what the West fears might be a 
prelude to an invasion.

   Amid the troops buildup, Russia in recent weeks has held a series of war 
games in regions that border Ukraine. On Monday, the military announced the 
launch of another exercise involving armored units stationed in the western 
part of Russia that includes 300 combat vehicles.

   A delegation of U.S. senators is visiting Ukraine to emphasize U.S. support 
for the country.

   "Our bipartisan congressional delegation sends a clear message to the global 
community: the United States stands in unwavering support of our Ukrainian 
partners to defend their sovereignty and in the face of persistent Russian 
aggression," Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, said in a statement.

   Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, said after the delegation 
met with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that if Russia invades Ukraine "we will 
impose crippling economic sanctions, but more important we will give the people 
of Ukraine the arms, lethal arms they need to defend their lives and 

   Speaking Monday on a visit to Kyiv, German Foreign Minister Annalena 
Baerbock warned that "any further escalation would carry a high price for the 
Russian regime -- economic, political and strategic" -- and emphasized the need 
to continue negotiations.

   "We are prepared to have a serious dialogue with Russia, because diplomacy 
is the only way to defuse this highly dangerous situation," she said.

   Baerbock said Germany has offered to send cybersecurity specialists to 
Ukraine to help investigate last week's cyberattacks, which Ukrainian 
authorities have blamed on Russia. At the same time, she noted that Germany 
hasn't changed its refusal to provide it with weapons.

   "We made clear that we will do everything to avoid escalating the crisis," 
she said.

   German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on a visit to Spain that "we expect clear 
steps from Russia to deescalate the situation," adding that "military 
aggression against Ukraine would entail serious political and economic 

   Ukrainian officials have warned that Russia could launch an attack from 
various directions, including from the territory of its ally Belarus.

   Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has increasingly relied on 
the Kremlin's support amid Western sanctions over a brutal crackdown on 
domestic protests, said Russia and Belarus will hold massive military drills 
next month.

   Lukashenko said the maneuvers will be conducted on Belarus' western border 
and also in the country's south, where it borders Ukraine. Belarus Security 
Council Secretary Alexander Volfovich said Monday that Russian troops already 
had started arriving in the country for the exercise, according to the BELTA 
news agency.

   Russia has denied having plans to attack its neighbor and in turn accused 
the Ukrainian leadership of hatching plans to use force to reclaim control of 
Russian-backed rebel-held territories in eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian authorities 
have denied it.

   Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 after the ouster 
of Ukraine's Moscow-friendly leader and also threw its weight behind a 
separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine. More than 14,000 people have been 
killed in nearly eight years of fighting there.

   Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that Moscow will take 
unspecified "military-technical measures" if the West stonewalls its demands.

   Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, who led the Russian delegation at 
the talks with the U.S. in Geneva, said last week that he would "neither 
confirm nor exclude" the possibility of Russia sending military assets to Cuba 
and Venezuela if the U.S. and its allies don't curtail their military 
activities on Russia's doorstep. U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan 
has dismissed the comments as bluster.

   Asked Monday about the possibility of Russian missile deployment to Cuba and 
Venezuela, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that "Russia is 
thinking about how to ensure its security in the context of the current 

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