Russia Claims U.S. Military Contractors Amassing Toxic Chemicals, Training Ukraine Troops

Russian officials are claiming that military contractors sent from the United States are preparing for conflict.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu claimed on Tuesday that more than 120 U.S. private military contractors are currently located in two eastern Ukrainian villages. While there, Shoigu told officials that he believed they were stockpiling toxic chemicals and training Ukrainian soldiers as if they were preparing for a confrontation. Shoigu made these claims at the same meeting that Russian President Vladimir Putin recently held with the Russian Defense Ministry.

"Tanks with unidentified chemical components have been delivered to the cities of Avdeyevka and Krasny Liman for the completion of the provocations," Shoigu said, according to The Daily Beast.

Ukraine has denied these allegations.

Although not directly addressing these allegations, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters on Tuesday that "Russian aggression" will hopefully be handled as diplomatically as possible.

"The president has been extremely clear for many, many years about some basic principles that no one is moving back on," said Blinken, "the principle that one country does not have the right to change by force the borders of another, that one country does not have the right to dictate the policies of another or to tell that that country with whom they may associate."

Talks between the U.S. and Russia regarding NATO's expansion into Ukraine are expected to occur early next year.

Shoigu, Putin, and Gerasimov
Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, escorted by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, right, and General Staff Valery Gerasimov walk after attending an extended meeting of the Russian Defense Ministry Board at the National Defense Control Center in Moscow, Tuesday, December 21, 2021. The Russian president on Tuesday reiterated the demand for guarantees from the U.S. and its allies that NATO will not expand eastward, blaming the West for current tensions in Europe. Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that in January, Russia will also start separate talks with NATO to discuss the issue, adding that separate negotiations under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe will also be held.

Last week, Moscow submitted draft security documents demanding that NATO deny membership to Ukraine and other former Soviet countries and roll back the alliance's military deployments in Central and Eastern Europe. Washington and its allies have refused to provide such pledges, but said they are ready for the talks.

Moscow presented the demands amid soaring tensions over a Russian troop buildup near Ukraine that has stoked fears of a possible invasion. U.S. President Joe Biden warned Russian President Vladimir Putin in a conference call earlier this month that Russia will face "severe consequences" if it attacks Ukraine.

Putin has denied having plans to launch an attack but has described NATO's expansion to Ukraine and weapons deployment of the alliance weapons there as a "red line."

"We don't want a war," Lavrov said Wednesday. "We don't want to take the path of confrontation. But we will firmly ensure our security using the means we consider necessary."

Speaking in a live interview with Russian RT television, Lavrov hailed Washington's "business-like" approach that helped quickly agree on parameters of the future talks.

He added that Moscow would be ready to consider Washington's demands, but warned that the talks mustn't drag out indefinitely.

"I hope that they will take us seriously given the moves we take to ensure our defense capability," he said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also hailed reaching a quick agreement on the start of the talks, but noted that they should be "aimed at reaching concrete results and not become drawn out." He added that Moscow expects Washington to present a detailed platform for the talks and be ready for a constructive discussion.

"We want these talks," he said in a conference call with reporters. "And, certainly, the talks are held to discuss each other's positions."

Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and shortly after cast its support behind a separatist rebellion in the country's east. The fighting, which started more than seven years ago, has killed over 14,000 people and devastated Ukraine's industrial heartland, known as the Donbas.

Moscow has rejected Western concerns about its plans to invade Ukraine as a smear campaign and, in its turn, accused Ukraine of an intention to reclaim control of the rebel-held areas by force. Ukrainian officials have denied having any such plans.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Navy Day Parade
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu (L) seen during the military parade marking Russia's Navy Day, on July 25,2021, in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Photo by Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images