Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday told European Council president Charles Michel he was concerned by Kyiv’s “provocations” to inflame tensions in eastern Ukraine, the Kremlin said.
“The Russian president expressed concern in connection with continuing provocations of the Ukrainian side aimed at exacerbating the situation on the line of contact,” the Kremlin said in a statement after the Putin-Michel phone call.
Putin also pointed out “the need to end Kyiv’s policy of discriminating against the Russian-speaking population, which violates Ukraine’s international obligations.” The phone call came as Western countries frown over reported Russian military activity near Ukraine, with the US saying it has “real concerns” over a new troop build-up on the border.
Moscow has dismissed growing Western claims that Russia may be preparing to invade Ukraine, accusing Nato of provocations.
The Ukrainian army has been locked in a festering conflict with Kremlin-backed separatists in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions after Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014.
Ukraine and its Western allies have accused Russia of sending troops and arms across the border, but Moscow has denied those claims.
Renewed Western fears about Russia’s possible new plans in Ukraine have coincided with tensions over a migrant crisis on the border with Kremlin-aligned Belarus and EU member Poland.
The EU has accused the Kremlin-backed regime of Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus of purposefully luring thousands of migrants to its doorstep as revenge for sanctions.
Some in the EU, including Poland, have said that Moscow is behind the crisis.
Putin yesterday urged the EU to begin “systemic co-operation” with Belarus to solve the crisis and told Michel that plans to slap new sanctions against Minsk were counterproductive, the Kremlin statement said.
Putin expressed hope that Michel “will work with Poland to prevent the use of violence against the migrants” and cautioned against any move that would escalate the situation, the Kremlin added.
The Russian president also referred to the use by Polish forces of “water cannon, tear gas, stun grenades, and other special equipment” against the refugees, the Kremlin said.
Meanwhile, Russia staged military drills in the Black Sea, south of Ukraine, yesterday and said it needed to sharpen the combat-readiness of its conventional and nuclear forces because of heightened Nato activity near its borders. Ukraine, which with its ally the US has said it believes Russia may be preparing an invasion, staged exercises of its own near the border with Belarus.
The increase of military activity on both sides follows weeks of rising tension that have raised the risk of war between the two neighbours, even though Russia denies aggressive intent and Western intelligence sources have said they do not see any invasion as imminent.
The US and Nato have signalled their backing for Ukraine in ways that Moscow considers provocative, including through warship manoeuvres this month in the Black Sea and a delivery of US patrol boats to the Ukrainian navy.
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said yesterday it would be “a grave mistake from Russia” to attack Ukraine. Russian fighter planes and ships practised repelling air attacks on naval bases and responding with air strikes during military drills yesterday in the Black Sea, Interfax reported.
Separately, the news agency quoted Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu as saying the need for Russia to further develop its armed forces was dictated by “the complicated military and political conditions in the world and the growing activity of Nato countries near Russia’s borders”.
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