Russia has voiced concerns about what it describes as the belligerent rhetoric of the Ukrainian leadership, saying it raised concerns about a possible escalation of fighting in a separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Ukrainian and Western officials have been concerned about a Russian troop buildup near Ukraine, fearing it could herald an invasion.
But Moscow has insisted it has no such intention and accused Ukraine and its Western supporters of making up the claims to cover up their own allegedly aggressive designs.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that “the Ukrainian authorities’ aggressive and increasingly intensive provocative action on the line of contact” gave grounds for concerns about a possible flare-up of hostilities.
He said that recent statements from Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian officials indicated that “the Ukrainian leadership doesn’t exclude a forceful scenario”.
“The probability of hostilities in Ukraine still remains high,” Mr Peskov said in a conference call with reporters.
Ukrainian officials have denied any intention to reclaim the rebel regions by force.
The two ex-Soviet neighbours have remained locked in a tense tug-of-war after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 following the removal of the country’s Kremlin-friendly president and threw its weight behind a separatist insurgency in Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland, known as the Donbas. More than 14,000 people have died in the fighting.
Russia president Vladimir Putin has warned Nato against deploying its troops and weapons to Ukraine, saying it represented a red line for Russia and would trigger a strong response.
He said on Wednesday that Moscow would seek Western guarantees precluding any further Nato expansion and deployment of its weapons near Russia’s borders.
US secretary of state Antony Blinken has warned that Mr Putin could quickly order an invasion of Ukraine and said that Washington stood ready to inflict heavy sanctions on Russia if he did.
Mr Blinken was speaking on Wednesday in Riga, in Latvia, where he met with his Nato counterparts.
He was scheduled to meet with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov on Thursday on the sidelines of a ministerial meeting of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Stockholm.
Speaking at the start of his talks with Mr Blinken, Mr Lavrov warned that “any further Nato expansion eastward undoubtedly compromises our core security interests”.
Addressing the broader OSCE meeting earlier in the day, Mr Lavrov urged Ukraine to abide by its obligation with a 2015 peace agreement for eastern Ukraine that envisaged a broad autonomy for the rebel regions, warning that Kyiv’s refusal to honour it was a “way toward a catastrophe”.
He also warned the West it was “playing with fire” when it argued that Russia did not have a say in Nato’s expansion plans.
“I want to make it crystal clear: turning our neighbours into a bridgehead for confrontation with Russia, the deployment of Nato forces in the regions strategically important for our security is categorically unacceptable,” he said.