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AP Interview: Ukraine foreign minister says country ready to fight if Russian troops invade

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PRAGUE - Ukraine's foreign minister has blasted the Russian decision to start military manoeuvrs along their border and said Thursday his country will fight any invading troops.

Andriy Deshchytisa told The Associated Press in Prague that Russia's decision to launch the military exercises "very much escalates the situation in the region."

Deshchytisa said his country had been taught a lesson by Russia's annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.

"We will now fight with Russian troops if ... they invade Ukraine," he said. "The Ukrainian people and Ukrainian army are ready to do this. Ukraine will confront Russia. We will defend our land. We will defend our territory."

Ukrainian authorities have renewed a push to force pro-Russia armed insurgents out of occupied buildings in eastern cities. Reacting to the killing of at least two pro-Russian insurgents Thursday, Moscow announced the military exercises.

"What are the Russian plans?" Deshchytisa asked. "Will they invade Ukraine or not? I think it would be a very big mistake for the Russian government to send troops to Ukrainian territory to protect Russians."

Deshchytisa said the new Russian military exercises are taking place "even closer to the Ukrainian border than it was planned earlier" and demanded the withdrawal of Russian troops.

Deshchytisa was visiting Prague for a two-day summit of presidents of post-Soviet nations with their European Union counterpart, with the Ukraine crisis topping the agenda.

Commenting on the launch of the Ukrainian military operation in the east, Deshchstiya said that "there was no other way, but to restore order" after the recent bloodshed in the town of Slovyansk, where the bodies of two civilian activists were found with signs of torture.

The foreign minister also called on the EU to impose new sanctions on Russia.

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