MOSCOW — Russia's top diplomat says that Moscow will not start a war in Ukraine. But he warned Friday that it also wouldn't allow the West to trample on its security interests amid fears it is planning to invade its neighbor.
"If it depends on Russia, then there will be no war. We don't want wars. But we also won't allow our interests to be rudely trampled, to be ignored," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Russian radio stations in an interview, according to Reuters.
Lavrov's comments came hours after President Joe Biden said he thought there is a "distinct possibility" that Russia could take military action against Ukraine in February.
That revelation came in a tweet Thursday from White House spokesperson Emily Horne.
"President Biden said that there is a distinct possibility that the Russians could invade Ukraine in February," Horne said. "He has previously said this publicly & we have been warning about this for months. Reports of anything more or different than that are completely false."
Tensions have soared in recent weeks, and the United States and its NATO allies worry that the concentration of about 100,000 Russian troops near Ukraine signals Moscow's intention to attack.
Russia denies having any such designs — and has laid out a series of demands it says will improve security in Europe, including a promise that NATO will not extend an invitation to Ukraine and a guarantee that the alliance will remove troops from Eastern Europe.
But the U.S. and the Western alliance firmly rejected any concessions on Moscow's main points Wednesday. Many of Russia's demands are nonstarters for NATO, creating a stalemate that many fear can only end in a war.
All eyes are now on how Russia will respond.
In the past, Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed frustration with the Soviet breakup of some countries, like Belarus and Ukraine. According to an Associated Press analysis, Putin sees those countries as part of a historic Russian linguistic and Orthodox motherland.
The Pentagon earlier this week ordered 8,500 troops on higher alert — marking a change to a more aggressive stance from the Biden White House.
In addition, NATO allies have begun transporting military equipment toward Ukraine. Denmark sent a frigate to the Baltic Sea and deployed F-16 war planes to Lithuania. Spain sent ships to join NATO's standing maritime force and is considering sending fighter jets to Bulgaria. France said it stands ready to send troops to Romania.
Ukraine has tried to urge its citizens to remain calm and thwart fears of a potential Russian invasion. However, the U.S. has already ordered some of those staying at its embassy in Kyiv to leave the country.