Russia Claims U.S. Is Pushing Ukraine to Cross Putin's 'Red Line'

Russian officials condemned recent comments by U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland about Crimea and accused her of trying to escalate the war in Ukraine.

During a Thursday discussion with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Nuland said the United States supports Ukrainian strikes on Russian military targets in Crimea. She also said that "Ukraine is not going to be safe unless Crimea is at a minimum, at a minimum, demilitarized."

Russia invaded and annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, and many analysts have said that potential Ukrainian efforts to regain control of the region could cross one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's "red lines" that would result in an escalation of the war, which will reach the one-year mark on February 24.

Nuland "has admitted that the [Biden] administration is fueling the ambitions of the Kyiv regime to attack our country," Russia's Embassy in Washington, D.C., said in a statement. "Inciting Kyiv criminals to attack Crimea is the same as pushing them to attack Moscow or Vladivostok."

Vladimir Putin with inset Victoria Nuland picture
Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence, outside Moscow, on February 17, 2023. In inset, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing to examine U.S.-Russia policy at the U.S. Capitol on December 7, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Russian officials say Nuland’s comments on Crimea prove the U.S. is trying to escalate Putin’s war in Ukraine. Photos by MIKHAIL METZEL/SPUTNIK/AFP/Alex Brandon-Pool/Getty Images

Nuland's comments about Crimea came as the Moscow-backed government of the region claimed that Ukrainian drones attempted strikes on or near the city of Sevastopol.

Mikhail Razvozhayev, the Russian-appointed governor of Sevastopol, wrote on his Telegram channel Friday that a Ukrainian drone was shot down over a thermal power plant in Balaklava, a town near Sevastopol. A day earlier, Razvozhayev claimed that Russian air defenses had downed two drones over Sevastopol.

Last month, Razvozhayev made similar claims on Telegram about air defenses destroying 10 drones over Sevastopol in what he referred to as a "failed Ukrainian attack."

Ukraine has not claimed responsibility for any of the alleged drone incidents.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Friday addressed Nuland's remarks while speaking with reporters.

"Now the American warmongers have gone even further. They incite the Kyiv regime to further escalate the war," Zakharova said, according to Reuters. "They supply weapons in huge quantities, provide intelligence and participate directly in the planning of combat operations."

The statement from the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., also accused the U.S. of being directly involved in Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's military efforts.

Nuland's comments about "supporting the Ukrainian Armed Forces in carrying out strikes on Crimea are a clear confirmation of Russia's position that the United States is directly involved in the conflict," the embassy said. "It should finally become obvious to the entire international community that the United States is the actual instigator of confrontation in Ukraine."

When contacted for comment, the Russian Embassy in the United States referred Newsweek to its statement.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson responded to a request for comment with a written statement.

"We have always said that decisions about Ukraine's objectives and its operations are for Kyiv alone to make. There is absolutely no change in our support for Ukraine or the principles that have guided us," the statement read. "President Biden said winning the war in Ukraine is to get Russia out of Ukraine completely and to recognize Ukraine's sovereignty and independence."

"Crimea IS Ukraine. We have emphasized that repeatedly and we say it again today," the spokesperson told Newsweek in the statement.

Update 02/17/22 2:40 p.m. ET: This story has been updated to include comment from the U.S. Department of State.