Russia, amid ongoing exercises near Ukraine, says ties with US ‘on the ground’

MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin told Russia’s RIA news agency that despite the recent escalation in bilateral dialogue, relations between Moscow and Washington are “laying on the ground” amid Western objections to major Russian military exercises underway near its border with Ukraine.

The United States said on Sunday that Russia could invade Ukraine at any time and could create a sudden pretext for an attack, as it reaffirmed its pledge to defend “every inch” of NATO territory.

Russia has massed more than 100,000 soldiers near Ukraine, has repeatedly denied any plans to invade it and accused the West of “hysteria”.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said there are certain channels of dialogue, one of which is positive that President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart Joe Biden have been in contact – the two spoke by phone on Saturday – but relations in other regions have been strained.

“The heads of state are in dialogue, and there is dialogue on other fronts,” Peskov was quoted as saying by the RIA news agency. ‚ÄúThis is a plus because you know that just two years ago there was no dialogue, there were no such contacts at all.

“But for the rest, unfortunately, in bilateral relations, we can only talk about the negatives. We are at a very low point. They are actually lying on the ground,” he added.

Russia is conducting major joint military exercises with Belarus, Ukraine’s northern neighbor. Crews of Sukhoi Su-30 fighters conducted a joint patrol flight along the Russia-Belarus border on Monday, the Russian Defense Ministry said.

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Izvestia daily quoted military sources as saying that Russia would also send a detachment of ships armed with cruise and hypersonic missiles from the Caspian Fleet to the Black and Mediterranean Seas.

Russia’s Black Sea Fleet said on Saturday that more than 30 ships began exercises near Crimea, which Moscow annexed in 2014, as part of a wide range of exercises from the Pacific to the Atlantic that involved all of its fleets in January and February.

Meanwhile, the military said on Monday that more than 30 transport and attack helicopters are taking part in tactical exercises in southern Russia.

(Reporting by Maria Kislyova; writing by Alexandre Marrow; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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