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Russian troops massed close to the border with Ukraine are not a threat, China said on Monday night as it accused the United States of “warmongering”.

Beijing ramped up its support for Moscow at a heated public meeting at the United Nations in New York, amid growing fears of a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Zhang Jun, China’s UN ambassador, said there was no basis for Western claims that Moscow, which has at least 127,000 troops near its border with Ukraine and in Belarus, is about to stage an incursion.

China joined Russia in an attempt to block a meeting of the United Nations Security Council on the military build-up on Monday. China has previously cautiously backed Russia in its stand-off with the US and Nato.

China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun addresses the United Nations Security Council

The move will stoke fears that President Putin is building closer ties with Chinese President Xi Jinping, as both countries’ relations with the West deteriorate.

Moscow accused the US ambassador to the UN, Lina Thomas-Greenfield, of whipping up “hysterics” and “megaphone diplomacy” after she demanded a first meeting on the crisis.

Moscow’s UN envoy, Vasily Nebenzya, had sought to close down the meeting from the outset, but failed with 10 nations backing the open discussion.

Mr Putin has made a string of demands including a ban on Ukraine joining Nato and the withdrawal of troops from the alliance’s Eastern flank.

Mr Zhang said Russia’s concerns were “legitimate” and must be “taken into account” in future diplomatic efforts to ease the tensions.

“Nato’s expansion is an issue that is very hard to sidestep in attempts to defuse current tensions,” he told the meeting.

It follows Xi Jinping, China president, agreeing in a call with Mr Putin that Nato must acquiesce to his demands as the Russian president was invited to the Winter Olympics in Beijing.

Members of the United Nations Security Council hold a meeting on the situation between Ukraine and Russia Members of the United Nations Security Council hold a meeting on the situation between Ukraine and Russia

The UN session was the start of another week of high-level diplomacy, although discussions between the US, Nato and Russia have so far failed to ease the tensions.

Russia has deployed at least 127,000 troops near its border with Ukraine and in neighbouring Belarus, where it says it plans to carry out joint exercises with the Belarusian army in February.

Moscow dispatched 5,000 troops into Belarus, which neighbours Ukraine, “with plans for more in the coming weeks,” the White House announced on Monday.

“Russia’s actions strike at the very heart of the UN Charter,” Ms Thomas-Greenfield said. “This is clear and consequential a threat to the peace and security as anyone can imagine.”

In a statement following the talks, President Joe Biden said: “If instead Russia chooses to walk away from diplomacy and attack Ukraine, Russia will bear the responsibility, and it will face swift and severe consequences,” in a statement following the UN talks.”

The US, UK and EU are ramping up their preparations for a Russian incursion into Ukraine, including a series of financial sanctions designed to cripple Moscow.

Ukraine praised Britain for its plans to target Kremlin-lined Russian oligarchs with sanctions and urged European allies to follow suit to deter a Russian invasion.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said there would be “nowhere to hide” as she announced a plan to target Russian oligarchs with sanctions in the event of an invasion.

When asked if the EU was ready to follow Britain’s strategy, a European Commission spokesman said: “We are considering all the possible options when it comes to sanctions against possible Russian actions against Ukraine.”

The bloc has been in constant dialogue with the US, UK and Canada to ensure their sanctions regimes are coordinated.

The White House was also said to be primed to target the Kremlin’s “inner circle”.

Hinting at a similar plan, an EU diplomat said: “The Commission are in close talks with the Americans, so they will try to align as much as possible and necessary.”

Denmark and Poland became the latest European nations to promise to send military equipment to Ukraine to bolster the country’s defences.

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