Lavrov: we are ready to defend Russians living in Donbas

The Kremlin is ready to take all necessary measures to protect hundreds of thousands of Russian citizens in the Donbas and resolve the conflict in Ukraine through diplomatic means, said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in an interview with RIA Novosti.

"We will continue to make efforts to resolve the internal Ukrainian conflict by political and diplomatic means. The undisputed basis for this remains the Minsk Package of Measures, approved by UN Security Council Resolution 2202," he said.

Lavrov stressed that "an adequate response will be given to any possible military provocations of Kyiv against the Donbas."

The Russian Foreign Minister added that Western countries "continue to support the militaristic aspirations of the Ukrainian authorities," and "the Kyiv regime, of course, perceives such support as a carte blanche to conduct a military operation."

By mid-December, there were about 100,000 Russian troops near the Ukrainian border, including about 50 highly mobile battalion tactical groups, the Financial Times writes, citing sources familiar with Western intelligence data.

They estimate that the number of troops could rise to 175,000 by the end of January, when the soil will freeze and be more suitable for tank attack in the event of a ground invasion.

Two long-time Putin confidants told the Financial Times that the most likely casus belli would resemble the one that led to the start of the war with Georgia in August 2008. Russia then responded to Tbilisi's attempt to gain control of South Ossetia by sending troops into Georgian territory with air and artillery support, using a blockade from the sea and cyberattacks.

Moscow will present the conflict with Ukraine as an attempt to protect the Russian-speaking population in the Donbas from what it will call Ukrainian aggression, FT sources said.

  Donbas, Lavrov, Russia, Ukraine