EU warns "spark" could set off escalation at Ukraine borders

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European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks as he attends a meeting of EU foreign ministers to discuss the situation in Ukraine, at the European Council building in Brussels, Monday, April 19, 2021. European Union foreign ministers on Monday assessed the bloc's strategy towards Russia in the wake of the military buildup on Ukraine's borders and amid the weakening health of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny. (Francois Walschaerts, Pool via AP)

BRUSSELS – The European Union's foreign policy chief said Monday that in the face of the big military buildup of Russian troops near Ukraine's borders, it will only take “a spark” to set off a confrontation.

In a glum assessment of relations with Moscow, Josep Borrell also said that the condition of imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was “critical” and that the 27-nation group would hold the Kremlin accountable for his health and safety.

Despite the developments, Borrell said after a virtual meeting of the EU foreign ministers that, “for the time being, there is no move in the field of more sanctions” to be imposed on Russia.

He also said there wasn't a request for a synchronized EU diplomatic move of expulsions in the standoff between Czech Republic, an EU member state, and Russia following Prague's accusation that Moscow was involved in a 2014 ammunition depot explosion.

More dangerous at this time, Borrell said, was the massing of Russian troops, including military field hospitals, and “all kinds of warfare.”

“It is the highest military deployment of the Russian army on the Ukrainian borders ever. It’s clear that it’s a matter of concern when you deploy a lot of troops," Borrell said. “Well, a spark can jump here or there.”

Initially, Borrell told reporters that “there’s more than 150,000 Russian troops massing on the Ukrainian borders and in Crimea," and doubled down on the figure later before his services had to correct it in the transcript, saying the real figure was over 100,000.

Nevertheless, Borrell said that "the risk of further escalation — it’s evident.”