Russia threatens with ‘military technical’ measures in security response to US

The Ukrainian crisis entered a suspenseful stage on Thursday when US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan received Russia’s response to Washington’s security proposals, in which Moscow notified the US that it would be forced to respond, including using “military technical” measures, if Washington did not negotiate legally-binding security guarantees for Moscow.

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Also on Thursday, Russia expelled the second-highest ranking official at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Bartle Gorman, a State Department spokesperson said.

According to sources, the “military-technical” response President Vladimir Putin first mentioned in December could include an array of measures including missile and troop deployments, electronic warfare and even the use of space-based weapons systems.

The TASS news agency published a copy of Russia's written responses to US counter proposals on security. In it, Moscow said that Russia's red lines were being ignored and that it was alarmed by growing US and NATO military activity near Russia.

There was no change to Russia’s previous demands, namely, that Ukraine must not join the NATO family — a foothold that neither Washington nor Brussels have so far refused to relinquish.

Ukraine however does not want to abandon its NATO aspirations. “Membership in NATO is our goal, and we work day and night to get there,” Ambassador Oksana Markarova told CNN.

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Russia’s military activity intensifies

Meanwhile, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said that Russia was stocking up on blood supplies, moving troops closer to Ukraine's borders and sending in more combat aircraft.

“I was a soldier myself not that long ago. I know firsthand that you don't do these sorts of things for no reason,” said Austin, a retired Army general. “And you certainly don't do them if you're getting ready to pack up and go home.”

The Defence Secretary’s statement comes in stark contrast with Moscow’s minor drawdown this week. To support its message, Russia’s defence ministry released a video, claiming that it showed more of its troops on the move away from Ukraine’s border. As far as pulling out some of its forces may be true, this might turn out to be a deliberate stratagem on the part of Moscow as Maxar Technologies, a private US company tracking the Russian buildup, stressed. The company said that satellite images showed Russia removing some of its equipment from the border of Ukraine but at the same time deploying other hardware.

“We see them fly in more combat and support aircraft. We see them sharpen their readiness in the Black Sea,” Mr Austin said, adding: “We even see them stocking up their blood supplies.”

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Sitting on a barrel of gunpowder

According to the Ukrainian military, Russia-backed rebels shelled a village in the Luhansk region on Thursday, hitting a kindergarten. Kyiv dubbed it a "provocation" at a time when Russia has troops deployed en masse on the frontier.

Defence Secretary Austin said the reports of shelling were concerning.

“We are still gathering details but we have said for some time that the Russians might do something like this in order to justify a military conflict,” he told a news conference at NATO HQ in Brussels.

Mr Austin is set to travel next to Poland, where he will meet US troops, including those recently deployed. He noted Bulgaria agreed on Thursday to host a US Army Stryker company for joint training.