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‘Lot of concern’ over Russian military activity near Ukraine, top U.S. general says

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, responds to questions during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on “Ending the U.S. Military Mission in Afghanistan” at Rayburn House office building in Washington, U.S. September 29, 2021. Rod Lamke / Paul via Reuters

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A senior U.S. military officer said late on Thursday that the United States was following enough indications and warnings surrounding Russian military activity near Ukraine to cause “a lot of concern” and that Russian rhetoric looked increasingly blunt.

General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declined to speculate about the kinds of options the United States might consider in the event of a Russian invasion. But Milley, in some of his more comprehensive statements about the crisis, stressed the importance of Ukraine’s sovereignty to Washington and NATO.

“Important national security interests of the United States and NATO member states are at stake here if there is an act of militarily aggressive action by the Russians in an independent nation-state since 1991,” Milley said during a flight from Seoul. to Washington.

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Ukraine says Russia has massed more than 90,000 troops near their long joint border. But Moscow denied suggestions that it was preparing to launch an attack on its southern neighbor and defended its right to deploy forces on its soil as it saw fit.

The Kremlin actually annexed Crimea on the Black Sea from Ukraine in 2014, then backed rebels fighting government forces in Kiev in the east of the country. Kiev says this conflict has claimed 14,000 lives, and is still raging.

Experts warn that an unchallenged Russian invasion could be destabilizing, creating ripple effects beyond Ukraine at a time of growing concern about Chinese intentions toward Taiwan.

Milley declined to publicly state his estimate of the number of Russian forces near Ukraine, but noted that his concerns went beyond the initial numbers of Russian forces.

“I’m not going to tell you what we’re tracking and the indications or warnings from an intelligence standpoint, but we’re tracking them all,” Milley said. “And there is enough now to cause a lot of concern, and we will continue to monitor.”

Russia and Ukraine have centuries of common history and were the two largest republics of the Soviet Union until its collapse in 1991, so Moscow regards its neighbor’s ambition to join NATO as an insult and a threat.

Since the latest crisis began, Moscow has made demands from the West for legally binding security guarantees, and for assurances that NATO would not accept Ukraine as a member or deploy missile systems there to target Russia.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken warned Moscow on Thursday of “heavy costs” if it invades Ukraine, urging his Russian counterpart to seek a diplomatic exit from the crisis. Read more

Milley declined to speculate whether Russian President Vladimir Putin might be encouraged by US President Joe Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, saying “you have to ask Putin.” The withdrawal in August ended the two-decade US war in unequivocal defeat, with the Taliban returning to power.

“I think it would be a mistake for any country to reach a broad strategic conclusion based on the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and then take that event and automatically apply it to other situations,” Milley said.

He cited historical examples of former US presidents who withdrew their forces in some places but ordered military action in others.

“So the United States is a country that is difficult for other countries to understand sometimes,” he said.

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(Reporting by Phil Stewart) Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Simon Cameron Moore

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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