The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine responded with mockery this week after Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Maria Zakharova claimed Russia has always respected Ukraine’s territorial independence.
In a Dec. 16 interview reported by Russia’s state-run TASS news agency, Zakharova said, “Our country has treated Ukraine as a sovereign state for more than 20 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, despite our common past, despite our common present.”
Responding to Zakharova’s comments, the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv tweeted on Sunday, “Russian MFA Spokesperson Zakharova claims ‘Russia has always treated Ukraine as an independent state,'” with a laughing emoji. “We look forward to Russia’s immediate withdrawal from Crimea and Donbas.”
The U.S. Embassy’s comments refer to Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian territory of Crimea, as well as its ongoing support for pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. Last week, Russian court documents appeared to inadvertently reveal the presence of Russian troops in the Donbas region. Zakharova’s comments also come as tens of thousands of Russian troops have gathered for weeks near the Russian border with Ukraine. According to Ukrainian defense officials, about 122,000 Russian troops are gathered within 200 km (125 miles) of the border with Ukraine, while a further 143,500 troops km (250 miles) of the border. The massing of Russian troops near Ukraine has increased fears in the west of an invasion.
During her comments last week, Zakharova also dismissed Ukraine’s aspirations to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and suggested their efforts to join the alliance are not their own, but rather are being done at the direction of western powers.
Zakharova said Ukraine’s request to join NATO “hasn’t been made sovereignly by that state” adding, “All these statements are based on the playbooks that they have been receiving from their Western handlers for many years.”
Zakharova also reportedly claimed NATO does not truly consider Ukraine a sovereign nation.
“It’s not a sovereign state that declares it wants to join NATO and that it’s their sovereign right,” Zakharova said. “It’s a result of some pressure, some lobbying or some downright control over this country, which only pretends to play a sovereign role, by other states.”
In recent days, Russia has made other bold claims about the cause of tensions around Ukraine.
On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed Russia’s troop buildup on Ukraine’s border is in response to aggressive actions over the years by NATO.
“They are to blame for what is happening in Europe now, for the escalation of tensions there,” Putin said. “Russia had to respond at every step, and the situation was continuously going from bad to worse. It was deteriorating all the time. And here we are today, in a situation when we are forced to resolve it.”
Putin also said, “If our Western colleagues continue their obviously aggressive line, we will take appropriate military-technical reciprocal measures and will have a tough response to their unfriendly steps.”