Tensions between Russia and Ukraine simmered on Wednesday, as Moscow accused Kiev and NATO of continuing military preparations as concerns grew over possible hostilities in the conflict-ravaged Donbass region.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has called on Ukraine and the Transatlantic Security Alliance, which counts Kiev as an ally, to refrain from any action that could lead to escalation, Russian news agency RIA reported.
Kiev and Moscow have exchanged blame over increased clashes in Donbass, where Ukrainian troops have fought Russian-backed separatist forces since rebels seized part of the territory in April 2014.
Ukraine says conflict has killed more than 14,000 people
The latest clashes come as Ukraine, its Western allies and NATO accuse Russia of organizing a “provocative” build-up of tens of thousands of troops on Ukraine’s eastern border and in Crimea, which Russia annexed to Ukraine in March 2014.
In turn, Russia accused NATO and the main alliance member, the United States, of “provocative activity” in the Black Sea region.
The United States and its NATO allies have regularly sent naval ships to the Black Sea, upsetting Moscow. However, Washington canceled the planned deployment of two destroyers to the region earlier this month as the rift between Kiev and the Kremlin widened.
Kiev calls for talks with the Kremlin
In addition, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday signed a law authorizing the call of reservists for military service without announcing the mobilization.
Approved by parliament at the end of March, the measure significantly revitalizes the country’s armed forces.
“This will allow military units of all defense forces to be quickly equipped with reservists, thus greatly increasing their combat effectiveness during a military aggression,” Zelenskyy’s office said.
Kiev also called for talks with Moscow, in an apparent attempt to calm lingering tensions.
In an address to the nation on Tuesday, Zelenskyy challenged his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, to meet with him in the Donbass region for talks aimed at ending the conflict there.
The Ukrainian president, elected in 2019 on the promise to end the fighting, also accused Russia of playing a double game by participating in peace negotiations while massing troops on the Ukrainian border.
Recent satellite images have shown hundreds of Russian military vehicles parked at several bases, shooting ranges and field camps along the border with Ukraine. Dozens of fighter jets stationed at air bases in southwest Russia and Crimea were also seen.
“A considerable number of Russian troops are concentrated near our border,” Zelenskyy said. “Officially, Russia calls it military exercises. Unofficially, the whole world calls this blackmail. “
‘Ready for war’
The Kremlin has repeatedly denied having played a role in the conflict in Donbass and called its troop movements along its western border with Ukraine and into the Crimea defensive.
He also said that military units moved to border positions will remain in position as long as Moscow sees fit.
The lingering stalemate prompted Ukraine to call on NATO to become a full member. Ukraine is currently a NATO ally, but not a member.
Kiev also called on the European Union to impose new economic sanctions on Moscow. However, despite Ukraine’s call, the bloc has ruled out further punitive measures for the time being.
“Our citizens need clear signals that, in the eighth year of the war, a country which is a shield for Europe at the cost of its life, will receive support not only as partners, as forums, but in as players of the same team, directly on the pitch, shoulder to shoulder, ”Zelenskyy said.
Ukraine wants to end the conflict through diplomacy but is ready to defend itself in the event of an attack, he added.
“Does Ukraine want war? No. But is Ukraine ready for war? Yes.”