Moscow denies 'unfounded' NATO claims that Russian troops in Ukraine
Moscow on Wednesday denied it was ramping up its military presence in neighbouring Ukraine after NATO sounded the alarm over columns of Russian military equipment entering the ex-Soviet country over the past two days.
But Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said Russia was keeping its troops on combat alert in the south of the country because of an increased "foreign" military presence on its border.
"We have stopped paying attention to unfounded statements by NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe General Philip Breedlove about his 'seeing' Russian military columns that are allegedly invading Ukraine," defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told Russian news agencies.
Ukraine said earlier it was readying for fresh combat operations in the war-torn east, fuelling fears of a return to all-out conflict despite a two-month-old ceasefire deal which has halted fighting along much of the frontline.
Separately, Shoigu expressed concern over the security situation in southwestern Russia.
"In many respects it is related to the situation in Ukraine, the inflaming of anti-Russian sentiments by NATO and an increase in the foreign military presence in the immediate proximity to our borders," Shoigu was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies at a government meeting.
Shoigu said the current security situation called for Russia to keep its forces in the southern military district combat-ready.
One of the priority tasks, Shoigu said, would be establishing a "full-blown" military force in Crimea, which Russian annexed from Ukraine in March.
© 2014 AFP