The United States on Wednesday warned Russia against a military intervention in Ukraine, saying such a move would be a "grave mistake," as troops in western Russia were placed on high alert for massive new war games in the area, including near the Russian-Ukrainian border.
In delivering the blunt message, Secretary of State John Kerry also announced the Obama administration was planning $1 billion in loan guarantees for Ukraine and would consider additional direct assistance for the former Soviet republic following unrest that led to the ouster of its Russian-backed president.
Kerry also renewed U.S. demands that Moscow withdraw troops from disputed enclaves in another former Soviet republic, Georgia, and urged Georgia to further integrate with Europe and NATO.
The warning, aid announcement and nudge westward for Georgia all came amid growing tensions between Russia and the West over Ukraine and were likely to fuel already-heightened Russian suspicions over Western intentions in its backyard.
Kerry insisted, however, that that U.S. policy toward Ukraine, Georgia and the other states that once made up the Soviet Union was not aimed at reducing Russia's influence in its neighbourhood. Instead, he maintained that U.S. encouragement for former Soviet states to integrate with the West was driven by America's desire to see their people realize aspirations for freedom in robust democracies with strong economies.
"This is not 'Rocky IV'," Kerry said, referring to the iconic 1985 Sylvester Stallone film in which an aging American boxer takes on a daunting Soviet muscleman. "It is not a zero-sum game. We do not view it through the lens of East-West, Russia-U.S. or anything else. We view it as an example of people within a sovereign nation who are expressing their desire to choose their future. And that's a very powerful force."