MOSCOW -- Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Tuesday called on Western countries to escalate "painful" economic sanctions against Russia in response to Moscow's military buildup on Ukraine's borders.
"History proves that only painful economic sanctions can make a difference," said Kuleba, calling for preemptive action to prevent a possible Russian invasion.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has shrugged off pressure from the United States and NATO countries to deescalate and pull back forces. The Kremlin has said Russia is entitled to move its military forces anywhere within its borders and has accused NATO of provocations.
Besides applying military pressure, Russia has been increasingly bellicose, with officials blaming Ukraine for the crisis and warning it faces destruction if the conflict explodes.
The U.S. ambassador to Russia said Tuesday that he will head home for consultations -- a move taking place after the Kremlin prodded him to take a break as Washington and Moscow traded sanctions.
The Kremlin emphasized that it couldn't order Ambassador John Sullivan to leave for consultations and could only "recommend" that he do so in face of the current tensions.
Sullivan said in a statement that he is returning to the United States this week to discuss U.S.-Russian ties with members of President Joe Biden's administration. He emphasized that he would return to Moscow within weeks.
"I believe it is important for me to speak directly with my new colleagues in the Biden administration in Washington about the current state of bilateral relations between the United States and Russia," Sullivan said in a statement issued by the embassy. "Also, I have not seen my family in well over a year, and that is another important reason for me to return home for a visit."
Sullivan's departure comes after Russia on Friday stopped short of asking Sullivan to leave the country but said it "suggested" that he follows the example of the Russian ambassador to the U.S., who was recalled from Washington last month after Biden described Putin as a "killer." Russia has set no time frame for Ambassador Anatoly Antonov's return to Washington.
Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the ambassadors' departures reflect current tensions in the relationship between the United States and Russia.
Peskov said Tuesday that Moscow was not to blame for the spike in tensions and called on foreign countries to calm down and end what he called their "mass anti-Russian psychosis."
"Indeed, there have been certain tensions recently," he said. "But, on the other hand, Russia of course always reacts to such unfriendly moves."
Washington last week announced that it would expel 10 Russian diplomats and impose sanctions on 32 individuals and organizations over cyberattacks, interference in the 2020 elections and other actions.
Russia expelled 10 U.S. diplomats and blacklisted eight U.S. officials in response -- but it has faced a flurry of diplomatic slaps in recent days from other NATO countries. Poland announced three Russian diplomats would be sent home in solidarity with Washington, and the Czech Republic blamed Russian military intelligence for explosions at military depots in 2014 that killed two civilians, and said 18 Russian diplomats would be expelled. Russia swiftly announced reprisals, expelling five Polish diplomats and 20 Czech diplomats.
Ukraine has been at war with Russia-backed separatists in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine since 2014, shortly after Moscow annexed Crimea. But hostilities have increased in recent months with almost 30 Ukrainian soldiers killed this year, including many felled by snipers, Kuleba said.
He said Russia's troop buildup was expected to reach 120,000 within a week, a greater deployment than the Russian buildup in 2014. Worrying signs included the deployment of a regiment of paratroopers, Iskander missiles, electronic warfare and "other clear signs of potentially offensive capabilities," Kuleba said.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Tuesday that allies were working to deter Russia and deescalate the situation.
"We have significant concerns about the recent Russian military buildup of forces on Ukraine's border," Raab said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the situation on the Ukraine-Russia border "alarmingly tense" in comments to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on Tuesday.
Information for this article was contributed by Robyn Dixon of The Washington Post; and by Vladimir Isachenkov and Matthew Lee of The Associated Press.