Tensions between Russia and Ukraine simmered on Wednesday, as Moscow accused Kyiv and NATO of continuing military preparations amid heightened concern over possible hostilities in the conflict-stricken Donbas region.
Russia’s foreign ministry called on Ukraine and the transatlantic security alliance, which counts Kyiv as an ally, to refrain from actions that could lead to escalation, Russia’s RIA news agency reported.
Kyiv and Moscow have traded blame over increasing clashes in the Donbas, where Ukrainian troops have battled Russian-backed separatist forces since the rebels seized a swath of territory there in April 2014.
Ukraine says the conflict has killed more than 14,000 people
The latest clashes come as Ukraine, its Western allies and NATO accuse Russia of engineering a “provocative” buildup of tens of thousands of troops on Ukraine’s eastern border and in Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in March 2014.
In turn, Russia has accused NATO and leading alliance member the United States of “provocative activity” in the Black Sea region.
The US and its NATO allies have regularly sent navy ships to the Black Sea, vexing Moscow. However, Washington reversed a planned deployment of two destroyers in the region earlier this month as the rift between Kyiv and the Kremlin widened.
Kyiv calls for talks with the Kremlin
In a separate development, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed a law on Wednesday allowing reservists to be called up for military service without announcing mobilisation.
Approved by parliament late in March, the measure makes it possible to significantly boost the country’s armed forces.
“This will make it possible to quickly equip the military units of all defence forces with reservists, thereby significantly increasing their combat effectiveness during military aggression,” Zelenskyy’s office said.
Kyiv has also called for talks with Moscow, in an apparent bid to calm the continuing tensions.
In an address to the nation delivered on Tuesday, Zelenskyy challenged his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, to meet him in the Donbas region for talks to end the conflict there.
The Ukrainian president, who was elected in 2019 on promises to bring an end to the fighting, also accused Russia of playing a double game by participating in peace negotiations while massing troops on Ukraine’s border.
Recent satellite images showed hundreds of Russian military vehicles stationed at multiple bases, firing ranges and field camps along the border with Ukraine. Dozens of warplanes parked at airbases in southwestern Russia and Crimea have also been seen.
“A considerable number of Russian troops are concentrated near our border,” Zelenskyy said. “Officially, Russia calls this military exercises. Unofficially, the whole world calls this blackmail.”
‘Ready for war’
The Kremlin has repeatedly denied playing any role in the conflict in Donbas and has described its troop movements along its western border with Ukraine and in the Crimea as defensive.
It has also stated the military units moved to border positions would remain in position as long as Moscow saw fit.
The continuing standoff has prompted Ukraine to call on NATO for full membership. Ukraine is currently an ally of NATO, but not a member.
Kyiv has also called on the European Union to impose new economic sanctions on Moscow. However, despite Ukraine’s appeal, the bloc has ruled out new punitive measures for the time being.
“Our citizens need clear signals that in the eighth year of the war, a country that is a shield for Europe at the cost of its lives, will receive support not just as partners, from the stands, but as players on the same team, directly on the field, shoulder to shoulder,” Zelenskyy said.
Ukraine wants to end the conflict through diplomacy but is ready to defend itself if attacked, he added.
“Does Ukraine want the war? No. But is Ukraine ready for the war? Yes.”