PRESIDENT Joe Biden has offered Ukraine America's "unwavering support" after Vladimir Putin deployed soldiers and tanks to the countries' disputed border.
It comes after Russia yesterday warned it will ”take extra measures” if NATO sends forces to help Ukraine, amid renewed fears over the region’s long-simmering conflict.
Biden made the pledge in a call to President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday after Kiev accused Moscow of building up military forces on its border.
The call, which was Biden's first conversation with Zelensky since his inauguration in January, came after Russia warned the West earlier Friday against sending troops to Ukraine to buttress its ally.
In a statement the White House said that Biden "affirmed the United States' unwavering support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia's ongoing aggression in the Donbas and Crimea".
Zelensky on Twitter said he was "glad" to talk to Biden and hailed Kiev's partnership with Washington as "crucial for Ukrainians".
But yesterday Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia would take the additional measures, after claims such a move by NATO would escalate tensions near its borders.
Peskov told reporters: “No doubt such a scenario would lead to a further increase in tensions close to Russia's borders.”
“Of course, this would call for additional measures from the Russian side to ensure its security.”
He insisted, however, that Russia was “not threatening” Ukraine, despite an earlier statement which warned a war in Donbass would “destroy” its neighbour.
A NATO official told Reuters that Russia was undermining efforts to reduce tensions in eastern Ukraine, and NATO ambassadors had met on Thursday to discuss the situation.
The official said: “Allies share their concerns about Russia's recent large-scale military activities in and around Ukraine.”
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky joined the criticism, saying "military exercises and possible provocations along the border are traditional Russian games".
Meanwhile, Mr Peskov accused Ukrainian forces of staging "provocations" on the frontline in eastern Ukraine, where a fragile ceasefire is violated daily.
The U.S. pledged its "unwavering" support to Ukraine on Thursday, with defense officials acknowledging the thousands of troops newly-deployed to the separatist Donbass territory, which is controlled by pro-Moscow factions.
US military officials have held phonecalls with both sides as they attempt to de-escalate the knifedge situation.
The Pentagon reportedly elevated the alert level of US troops in Europe to its highest status, saying "we're watching the situation very carefully".
Kiev's intelligence services have warned Russia may attempt an armed incursion into Ukraine, reports news agency UNIAN.
Tanks, military trucks and howitzers can all be seen allegedly being shipped to the border in unverified videos on social media.
Open war between Russia and the Ukraine would force the West into an impossible situation.
Britain, the US and other nations may either have to go up against Putin -with his massive military and nuclear arsenal – or abandon their allies in Kiev.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russian for "muscle-flexing" and said they were ready for any confrontation.
"Our army is not just strength and power; it is also wisdom and balance. Our state is unity. We are always ready for any provocations," he said.
Ukraine and Russia have remained technically at war since 2014.
The Kremlin has denied any ill intent – insisting that its own troop were not aimed at anyone, but has described the situation on the border as "frightening".
Russia's foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov however warned any new conflict in Ukraine's war-torn East could end up destroying the ex-Soviet state.
Back in 2014, Putin's forces annexed the strategically key Crimea from Ukraine and pro-Russian groups then took up arms against Kiev.
Russia gave their backing to the separatist forces which formed breakaway republics in Donetsk and Luhansk in the Donbass.
Putin continues to support them militarily with supplies such as ammo and fuel – and the concerning troop movements come as the stalemate conflict has hotted up in recent weeks.
Ukraine had been in a ceasefire with the rebel forces in its East, but this was breached when four of its troops were killed in clashes with pro-Russian forces.
Kiev accused Russia of escalating the situation and helping to prolong the ongoing crisis as Putin's actions have "brought the situation to a dead end".
What is happening between Russia and Ukraine?
RUSSIA and the Ukraine have remained technically at war since 2014.
Ukraine was aligned with Russia as part of the Soviet Union until its collapse in 1991, following which it became an independent state.
Both nations remained closely tied – but Ukraine gradually began to distance itself, seeking deeper ties with the West.
The open conflict was triggered by the Ukrainian Revolution in 2014 – when an uprising overthrew the pro-Russian government of Viktor Yanukovych.
Vladimir Putin's forces reacted by annexing the region of Crimea from Ukraine – a move which was widely condemned by the West.
The conflict then spiralled when pro-Russian groups in Eastern Ukraine then took up arms against the state.
Russia gave their backing the separatist forces which formed breakaway republics in Donetsk and Luhansk.
Putin's forces then launched a military incursion into these regions as they gave their support to the rebels.
Russia continues to hold Crimea – and claims the region joined them willingly after they a referendum.
Almost seven years have now passed and the War in Donbass remains at a stalemate.
It is estimated some 14,000 have been killed in the conflict, including more than 3,00 civilians.
Ukraine and the rebels signed a new ceasefire in July 2020 – but clashes have been steadily increasing again since last November.
Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov hit back at any allegations they were plotting aggressive moves.
He fumed: "This shouldn’t concern anyone, as such actions do not endanger anyone".
Peskov insisted Russia does not want a "civil war" in Ukraine – and blamed Kiev for committing "provocations" in Donbass.
US defence officials estimate some 4,000 additional troops have been deployed to the border by Russia.
General Mark Milley, the US's highest ranking military officer, spoke on the phone to General Valery Gerasimov, the Russian Armed Forces chief of staff, and Ukraine armed forces Commander in Chief Ruslan Khomchak.
And meanwhile, US State Secretary Antony Blinken spoke to his Ukrainian counterpart and "expressed concern" about the developing situation.
Ukraine has accused Russia of having at least 32,7000 troops in occupied Crimea, and said Putin's officer are commanding some 28,000 separatist troops in the Donbass.
Some in Moscow perceive the Ukrainian territory has always rightfully belonged to Russia since Kiev broke away following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
It is feared Putin could use a new land grab to energise his support – with his approval rating hitting highs of 70 per cent after Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014.
Vlad could attempt to secure his position amid ongoing pressure from protesters over the treatment of opposition figure Alexei Navalny, who has been thrown in a prison camp.
In February, Russian state TV chief Margarita Simonyan made an impassioned plea for the Kremlin to formally annex the disputed Donbass to bring it "home".
And polls over the years have showed that majority of Russian support the annexation of Crimea, despite it receiving widespread condemnation from the West.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price said: "We’re absolutely concerned by recent escalations of Russian aggressive and provocative actions in eastern Ukraine."
Newly minted US President Joe Biden could face his first foreign policy challenge amid the tensions, and has already positioned himself against Putin as he branded the Russian leader a "killer".
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