Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said he was “gravely concerned” at the situation, while US President Joe Biden offered reassurances to Ukraine’s leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy during a 50-minute phone conversation yesterday. Ukraine, Western countries and NATO have all accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of sending troops and heavy weapons to prop up proxies in Donbass who seized a swathe of eastern Ukraine in 2014, at the same time Russia annexed the Crimea.
Kyiv and Moscow have blamed each other in recent weeks for a spike in violence in the eastern Donbass region, where Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed forces have fought a conflict which has killed 14,000 people in seven years by Ukraine’s estimate.
Russia says it only provides political and humanitarian support to separatist fighters in what it casts as an internal conflict.
However, speaking yesterday, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told the BBC Russia troops were massing at Ukraine’s northern and eastern borders, as well as “in the illegally occupied Crimea”.
He added: “So from three directions we observed a military build-up of the Russian federation.
“Ukraine is not looking for any escalation – we do not need war.”
Mr Kuleba has discussed matters with Mr Raab, who subsequently tweeted that he had “reaffirmed UK support for Ukraine’s sovereignty & territorial integrity”.
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A US statement added: “President Biden affirmed the United States’ unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression in the Donbass and Crimea.”
The Kremlin said yesterday any deployment of NATO troops to Ukraine would lead to further tensions near Russia’s borders and force Moscow to take extra measures to ensure its own security.
NATO voiced concern on Thursday over what it said was a big Russian military build-up near eastern Ukraine after Russia warned that a serious escalation in the conflict in Ukraine’s Donbass region could “destroy” Ukraine.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters yesterday that the situation at the contact line in eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian government forces and Russian-backed separatist forces was quite frightening and that multiple “provocations” were taking place there.
Footage widely circulated on social media last week purportedly shows large numbers of Russia tanks and other materiel being sent to Crimea by train.
The clip was shared by The Intel Crab, who describes themselves as an “open source intelligence aggregator & content contributor” for the @StratSentinel Twitter feed.
They posted: “Russian forces are deploying massive amounts of military hardware into #Crimea.
“One of the largest deployments I’ve seen in recent memory.”
Commenting on similar clips shared the previous day, they said: “Note: Spring exercise season is WELL underway across Russia, but the size and scale of these deployments are far from what typically occur in the region.”
In a statement issued on Thursday, the European Union said Russia had launched a conscription campaign in the Crimea peninsula in a move which broke international law.
The statement said: “Today, the Russian Federation has launched yet another conscription campaign in the illegally-annexed Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol to draft residents of the peninsula in the Russian Federation Armed Forces.”
“This is another violation of international humanitarian law. The Russian Federation is bound by international law, and obliged to ensure the protection of human rights on the peninsula.”