Russia and Ukraine have blamed each other for escalating violence in the eastern Ukraine. The blame-game erupts at a time when Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Crimea, which Moscow annexed last year. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko claimed Putin was trying to flare up tensions in the eastern Ukraine by visiting Crimea. But the Kremlin maintained that Putin was there to promote tourism on the peninsula.
Russia accuses Ukraine of violating Minsk agreement
On Monday, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov alleged that Ukraine was preparing to launch a new offensive in eastern Ukraine against pro-Russian separatists. Even though Moscow and Kiev agreed on a ceasefire agreement in Minsk in February, sporadic outbursts of fighting between Ukrainian government forces and rebels have put further strain on the relationship. Violence has increased significantly in the past few days, with the Ukrainian government forces and separatists trading shellfire.
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Lavrov accused Ukraine of violating the terms of the Minsk agreement. He said the recent clashes were strong signs that Ukraine was preparing for more military actions. Lavrov also referred to the escalation of violence in January 2015 and August 2014 to make his point clear, reports Reuters. More than 6,500 people have been killed in the conflict that began in April 2014 after Russia annexed Crimea.
Russia-backed separatists employing heavy weaponry
Col. Andriy Lysenko of Ukraine said the Moscow-backed separatists were employing heavy weaponry such as rocket artillery and howitzers. The separatists were moving towards “active offensive operations.” Last week, the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, expressing his concerns about rising attacks by separatists.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) has released a report, seen by The Independent, which claims that there are more than 50,000 Russian troops within or close to Ukrainian borders. The report estimates that at least 9,000 Russian Army personnel were inside Ukraine, while the remaining are stationed in the Rostov region of Russia. It has raised fears that Russia could be planning to substantially escalate the conflict in eastern Ukraine.