The Ukrainian Army chief has accused Moscow of conducting a military buildup near their shared border and has reiterated claims that pro-Moscow separatists continue to violate a cease-fire in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
General Ruslan Khomchak, chief of the general staff of the Armed Forces, told the VOA’s Ukrainian Service in an interview on March 30 that Russian armed forces have been increasing the number of troops near the border.
The buildup is taking place “under the guise of preparing for strategic exercises” and is in addition to thousands of troops in combat brigades, regiments, and supply units deployed in the occupied Donbas with the support of Russian regular troops, Khomchak said.
“The Armed Forces of Ukraine respond accordingly to such actions of our eastern neighbor,” Khomchak said. “We are preparing for all possible provocations and reactions to the actions of the enemy.”
Khomchak first made the accusations of a military buildup in a speech to the Verkhovna Rada (parliament) on March 30.
The comments drew a response from Russian President Vladimir Putin during a videoconference call with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Kremlin said on March 31.
Putin placed the blame for tensions on Ukraine and urged Kyiv to enter into direct dialogue with local separatist forces.
“The Russian side expressed serious concern over the escalation of armed confrontation that is being provoked by Ukraine along the line of contact and its effective refusal to implement the agreements of July 2020…to strengthen the cease-fire regime,” the Kremlin said in a statement late on March 30.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, in comments to reporters on March 31, said Putin has not drawn any “red lines” regarding the situation in southeastern Ukraine.
“In general, the issues on the agenda were the absence of any alternatives to compliance with the Minsk accords and the problem situation that has taken shape in connection with the non-compliance with these agreements,” Peskov said, according to TASS, referring to a 2015 agreement brokered by France and Germany.
A statement from the Elysee indicated that during the video conference call Macron and Merkel urged Putin to take steps to de-escalate.
“The need for Russia to make a determined commitment to stabilize the cease-fire in Ukraine and work out a way out of the crisis while respecting the Minsk Agreements was underlined. “
Germany, Russia, and France are part of the so-called Normandy Format that also includes Ukraine and was set up to try to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Fighting between government forces and Russia-backed separatists has killed more than 13,000 people since April 2014.
The Ukrainian military said last week that four of its soldiers were killed in shelling in the country’s east in the latest violence. It said the shelling on March 26 targeted Ukrainian forces and was the latest violation of a cease-fire agreed in July 2020.
With reporting by Reuters and TASS