Russia defiant after more threats from West over Ukraine

Russia defiant after more threats from West over Ukraine
# 27 January 2015 02:09 (UTC +04:00)

Baku-APA. A defiant President Vladimir Putin on Monday called the Ukrainian army a "NATO foreign legion," reflecting his readiness to stand up to the West regardless of rising economic costs, as Standard & Poor's rating agency downgraded Russia's credit rating to junk, APA reports quoting Associated Press.

While the Russian ruble tumbled further on the news of the downgrade, Putin's spokesman shrugged off the Western threat of more sanctions as "short-sighted."

The Kremlin's uncompromising stance is rooted in its desire to prevent Ukraine from ever joining NATO by securing a broad autonomy for the rebellious provinces in the east. To avoid being called a party to the conflict, as Ukraine and the West see it, Russia is pushing the Ukrainian government to speak directly to the rebels.

The latest rebel offensive, which involved the deadly shelling of a strategic port city of Mariupol over the weekend — appeared aimed at pressuring Kiev into such talks.

Speaking to students in St. Petersburg, Putin said the Ukrainian leadership was to blame for the upsurge in violence and accused it of using civilians as "cannon fodder" in the conflict.

"(Ukraine's army) is not even an army, it's a foreign legion, in this case a NATO foreign legion," Putin said, adding that it's serving the goal of "the geopolitical containment of Russia, which absolutely don't coincide with the national interests of the Ukrainian people."

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg dismissed the claim and accused Russia of sending large numbers of heavy weapons to the rebels. "We have seen a substantial increase in the flow of equipment from Russia to the separatists in Ukraine," he said.

A Russian envoy at the 57-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe rejected those claims, arguing that the rebels are using old Soviet-era weapons they seized from the Ukrainian arsenals.

Andrey Kelin, who spoke after the OSCE called a special session on the uptick in fighting, said the rebels are using "very old Soviet equipment" dating back to the mid-1960s.

Ever since the separatist rebellion in eastern Ukraine flared up in April following Moscow's annexation of Crimea, Russia has denied Western accusations that it has backed the insurgents with troops and weapons.

But even though Ukrainian troops and the rebels use the same types of Soviet-built arms, the sheer number of heavy weapons in the rebels' possession has been seen in the West as a proof of Moscow's involvement in the conflict.

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