The Kremlin on Sunday said it was not heading towards a war with Ukraine as tensions escalate in the eastern Donbass region.
“Of course, nobody is planning to move towards war and in general, nobody accepts the possibility of such a war,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in an interview to state broadcaster Russia-1.
“Nobody also accepts the possibility of civil war in Ukraine,” he added.
Fears of major escalation have grown in recent weeks, with clashes between pro-Russia separatists and Ukraine’s forces amid a Russian troop buildup on the borders.
Russia and Ukraine have exchanged accusations over the clashes. But Peskov insisted that Moscow was not involved in the fighting.
However, he said Moscow “will not remain indifferent” to the fate of the Russian-speaking populace in the region.
“Russia is making every possible effort to help resolve this conflict. And we will continue to explain this tirelessly,” he said.
Ukraine has accused Russia of deploying thousands of troops on its borders.
Moscow insisted that the military buildup was a “harmless” and nonthreatening move and that it was entitled to protect Russian-speaking citizens in Donbass.
This week, Washington said the number of Russian troops at the border with Ukraine was greater than at any time since the conflict erupted in 2014.
In the first week of April, Russia had begun to build up its military presence at the border with Ukraine. This was a reaction to Ukraine’s “provocations” — which were aimed at escalating the conflict between Russian separatists and Ukrainian government troops, the Kremlin said. According to observers sent by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), there was no provocation.
A tank fires during control checks of Russia’s armed forces. On both sides of the Russian-Ukrainian border, troops are testing the combat readiness of their weapon systems. This thumbnail was taken from a video released by the Russian Defense Ministry.
The US, NATO and the EU have pledged support for Ukraine’s efforts to defend its territory. Ankara said on Friday that the US had already announced at the end of March that it would be sending two warships to the Black Sea in mid-April. The USS Thomas Hudner (pictured) is one of two missile destroyers which sailed through the Bosporus in March.
The conflict in eastern Ukraine broke out in early 2014, when pro-Russian rebels seized control in parts of the Ukrainian districts of Donetsk and Luhansk. According to the Ukrainian government and its Western allies, the Kremlin supports the rebels unofficially by providing mercenaries and weapons. Since 2014, several ceasefires have been agreed upon. They were, however, broken time and again.
A Donetsk resident inspects the ruins of his house, destroyed during a conflict between militants of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and the Ukrainian armed forces. Although mainly soldiers, mercenaries, rebels and militiamen are involved in the conflict, the civilian population is repeatedly affected. At the beginning of 2019, the UN recorded 3,300 civilians killed.
Since 2014, combat activities of varying intensity have claimed the lives of a total of more than 13,000 people. The current ceasefire, in force since July 2020, is relatively stable, according to the OSCE. Recently, however, hostilities have increased again. At least seven Ukrainian government soldiers and a five-year-old boy were killed during the last two weeks.
During a visit to the Donbass region earlier in the week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy inspected the situation on the ground and honored soldiers for services rendered. On Saturday, he will meet President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey. According to Ukrainian media reports, a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron is on the agenda as well.
By international law, the renegade areas belong to Ukraine. However, some 400,000 residents with Russian citizenship inhabit the zone. “To protect them,” Moscow announced on Friday, the Kremlin would take action. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, meanwhile, said that “Russia now has more troops on the border with Ukraine than at any time since 2014.”
Washington warned of “consequences” if Russia acts “aggressively” towards Ukraine, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during an NBC interview aired Sunday.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel had urged Russia to reduce troop presence near Ukraine during a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Peskov said that Merkel expressed concerns, but “did not demand” the Kremlin to unwind its military buildup, which was an “internal affair.”
German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer demanded an explanation of the Kremlin’s intentions. “If Russia has nothing to hide, it could easily explain which troops are being moved where and to what goal,” she said.
Ukraine announced on Sunday that a soldier was killed and another seriously wounded in an attack by pro-Russia separatists.
The Ukrainian government said 27 soldiers have been killed in the region this year, more than half of the death toll in all of 2020.
The conflict fell back with a truce in 2020. But clashes have picked up again since the beginning of the year.
fb/dj (AFP, Interfax, Reuters, AP)