Kiev: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hasn’t had any luck confronting Russian President Vladimir Putin about the Russian troop build-up across his country’s border and the escalating tensions in eastern Ukraine.
He has asked for a phone call with Putin but the request has not been answered so far, his spokeswoman said.
It comes as the foreign ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US – the G7 group of countries – said they were “deeply concerned by the large ongoing build-up of Russian military forces on Ukraine’s borders and in illegally-annexed Crimea”. They said the large scale troop movements were threatening and destabilising, and urged Russia “to cease its provocations”.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visits the war-hit Donbas region, eastern Ukraine last week. An escalation of tensions with Russia in the area has raised fears of a resumption of large-scale hostilities. Credit:AP
The concentration of Russian troops along the frontier comes with a surge of ceasefire violations in eastern Ukraine, where Russia-baсked separatists and Ukrainian forces have been locked in a conflict since Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. More than 14,000 people have died in fighting in eastern Ukraine and efforts to negotiate a political settlement have stalled.
“The Kremlin, of course, has the request to talk to Vladimir Putin. We haven’t received a response so far and very much hope that it’s not a refusal of dialogue,” Iuliia Mendel, a spokeswoman for Zelenskyy, said. The request was lodged on March 26, when four Ukrainian troops were killed in a mortar attack in the east, she added.
But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday (AEST) he hadn’t seen any requests from Zelenskyy “in recent days”.
Western and Ukrainian officials have raised concerns about increasingly ceasefire violations in the area. Reports of Ukraine’s military casualties have been occurring daily over the past week, and rebels also have reported losses. On Monday, Ukraine’s military reported one more serviceman killed, bringing the total to 28 this year.
Amid the rising tensions, the United States has notified Turkey that two US warships will sail to the Black Sea on April 14 and April 15 and stay there until May 4 and May 5.
Zelenskyy was expected to head to Paris soon for talks on the situation with French President Emmanuel Macron, Mendel said.
She said Russia had accumulated 41,000 troops at its border with eastern Ukraine and 42,000 more in Crimea. These numbers were likely to grow as the troops “keep arriving,” she said.
During a call with Putin last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for the removal of Russian troop reinforcements “in order to achieve a de-escalation of the situation”.
Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said Germany had been following the military build-up along the border with Ukraine very closely, adding it has been “of great concern to us”.
The Kremlin has maintained that Russia is free to deploy its troops wherever it wants on its territory and has repeatedly accused the Ukrainian military of “provocative actions” along the line of control in the east and plans to retake control of the rebel regions by force. Kremlin officials charged that actions of the government in the capital Kiev, also known as Kyiv, have threatened Russia’s security, warning that Russia may intervene to protect Russian speakers in the east.
Speaking on a trip to Egypt on Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned that “the current regime in Kyiv might resort to reckless actions in an attempt to restore its ratings.”
Russia has long bristled at Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO and its increasing military cooperation with the US and its allies.
Lavrov argued that while Russia was moving troops on its own territory, “a question what the US ships and servicemen taking part in NATO activities in Ukraine are doing thousands of kilometres away from its territory has remained unanswered.”
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