CORRECTS SURNAME OF UKRAINIAN DEFENSE MINISTER
By Talha Yavuz and Atila Altuntas
KYIV, Ukraine/STOCKHOLM (AA) - Ukraine's defense minister said on Friday that Russia could trigger a large-scale escalation in January next year.
Addressing the country's lawmakers, Oleksiy Reznikov said that approximately 94,000 Russian troops were deployed on the Ukrainian border and that intelligence forces were working on all possible scenarios that could arise.
Reznikov said analyses by the Ukrainian intelligence service pointed to the end of January as the most probable time Russia would be ready for such an escalation.
He further noted that this was a probable scenario, though not certain, and that it was the duty of Ukrainian forces to thwart it.
The US warned Russia on Thursday against any new military aggression towards Ukraine and urged Moscow to fulfill its commitments under the Minsk agreements.
"We are deeply concerned by evidence that Russia has made plans for further significant aggression against Ukraine," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at the 28th meeting of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Stockholm, Sweden.
The Minsk protocols were signed in 2014 and 2015 to stop the ongoing conflict between the pro-Russian separatists and the Kyiv administration.
They included a cease-fire in the region, a prisoner exchange, and allowing the Kyiv administration to make a constitutional amendment that would give Donbas special status. The pro-Russian separatists, on the other hand, were supposed to withdraw their weapons at the Ukraine-Russia border.
However, the agreements' implementation has been hampered as the two sides accused one another of violating the cease-fire.
Ukraine currently is one of six NATO's Enhanced Opportunities Partners, alongside Australia, Finland, Georgia, Jordan, and Sweden.
Russia sees Ukraine's entry into NATO as a threat to itself.
The Russia-Ukraine crisis started in 2014 after four Ukrainian soldiers were killed in the Donbas region by Russian forces.
- No softening in sight
Speaking to the top diplomats of other OSCE countries, Ukraine's foreign minister said on Friday that the crisis between Kyiv and Moscow had not softened and continues with the same intensity.
On the second day of the Stockholm meeting, Dmytro Kuleba said Moscow gave no indication that the crisis is on the verge of softening, citing remarks by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that he said amounted to harsh and unjustified accusations against Ukraine, Germany, France, and the US.
Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde also spoke at the event, voicing skepticism that the Ukraine-Russia crisis would be resolved any time soon.
*Writing by Ali Murat Alhas