Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the US of using Ukraine as a tool to constrain his country.

In his first significant comments about the crisis in several weeks, he accused the US of ignoring Russia’s concerns about Nato alliance forces in Europe.

And he suggested that if Ukraine were granted its wish to join Nato, it could drag the other members into a war with Russia.

Tension is high over a Russian troop build-up close to Ukraine’s borders.

Russia denies Western accusations that it is planning an invasion, nearly eight years after the annexation of Crimea and a bloody rebellion in Ukraine’s eastern regions.

Moscow in turn accuses the Ukrainian government of failing to implement an international deal to restore peace to the eastern regions, where at least 14,000 people have been killed and Russian-backed rebels control swathes of territory.

He told reporters: “It seems to me that the United States is not so much concerned about the security of Ukraine… but its main task is to contain Russia’s development. In this sense Ukraine itself is just a tool to reach this goal.”

The US, he said, had ignored Moscow’s concerns in its response to Russian demands for legally binding security guarantees, including a block on Nato’s further expansion to the east.

“Imagine that Ukraine is a Nato member and a military operation [to regain Crimea] begins,” the Russian leader said. “What – are we going to fight with Nato? Has anyone thought about this? It seems like they haven’t.”

Earlier on Tuesday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, by phone that it was time for Moscow to pull its troops back from the borders if it was sincere about not planning to invade, a senior state department official was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.

Mr Blinken added that the US and its allies were willing to continue substantive discussions with Russia on mutual security concerns.

In Ukraine itself, visiting UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson accused Mr Putin of effectively “holding a gun… to the head of Ukraine” and he called on the Kremlin to step back from a “military disaster”.

Speaking after talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in the capital Kyiv, he told reporters the Ukrainian army would fight back in the event of an invasion.

“There are 200,000 men and women under arms in Ukraine,” he said. “They will put up a very, very fierce and bloody resistance and I think that parents, mothers, in Russia, should reflect on that fact. And I hope very much that President Putin steps back from the path of conflict and that we engage in dialogue.”

Mr Johnson warned that the UK would respond to Russian aggression with a “package of sanctions and other measures to be enacted the moment the first Russian toecap crosses further into Ukrainian territory”.

The UK has announced it is giving £88m to Ukraine to promote stable governance and energy independence from Russia.

Ukraine’s president said it would “not be a war between Ukraine and Russia – this would be a war in Europe, a full-scale one”.

He called for sanctions to be introduced before any escalation, saying he would support any move by the UK to deal with “dirty money” allegedly linked to the Kremlin being laundered through the City of London.

Source: BBC News

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