Ukraine condemns “open” threats from Russia ahead of meeting with France and Germany

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Kyiv (AFP) – Kyiv accused Russia on Thursday of blatantly threatening Ukraine with destruction ahead of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s meeting with the French and German leaders.

Concerns are mounting that the long-lingering conflict in eastern Ukraine could resume an upsurge in fighting after reports of major Russian troop movements and escalating clashes with Moscow-backed separatists .

The build-up of troops along Ukraine’s northern and eastern borders, as well as on the Crimean peninsula annexed by Moscow in 2014, comes amid a surge in violence along the front line between backed separatists by Russia and Ukrainian forces in the east of the country.

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Zelensky, who urged NATO to step up his country’s membership application, was due to visit Paris on Friday to discuss rising tensions with French President Emmanuel Macron.

The two leaders will be joined by German Chancellor Angela Merkel via video link, Macron’s office said.

Ahead of Zelensky’s visit, foreign ministers from EU members Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania arrived in Kiev on Thursday and European Council President Charles Michel held talks with the leader Ukrainian to show his support.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visits war-stricken Donbass region in eastern Ukraine on April 9, 2021 (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP, dossier)

Speaking alongside the visiting diplomats, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told reporters rhetoric in Moscow had peaked with experts and officials issuing “dehumanizing” statements aimed at intimidating Kiev.

“They openly threaten Ukraine with war and destruction of the Ukrainian state,” Kuleba said.

“Ukraine’s red line is the state border. If Russia crosses the red line, it will have to suffer, ”Kuleba said in English.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis told reporters: “Ukraine will never be alone. “

The United States reiterated its support for Ukraine, and on Thursday European Council President Michel “expressed the EU’s unwavering support” in telephone conversations with Zelensky, a reading of the appeal read. .

EU foreign ministers will discuss Ukraine on Monday, Brussels said.

Illustrative photo of a pro-Russian rebel preparing weapons for an assault on Ukrainian army positions at Donetsk airport in eastern Ukraine on August 31, 2014 (AP / Mstislav Chernov)

Macron will receive Zelensky for lunch in Paris on Friday, the Elysee said.

“This is an important meeting,” said the 43-year-old Ukrainian leader after a meeting of the country’s security council. He said the situation in the east was “under control”.

“The army is ready, that’s the most important thing,” he added.

Along with Russia, France, Germany and Ukraine form the Norman format of countries that have sought and failed to resolve the conflict since 2015.

On Wednesday, US President Joe Biden and Merkel agreed to call on Russia to cut troops on the border with Ukraine.

Russia has rejected the pressure.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Western countries, including Germany and France, should “stop participating in the propaganda campaign surrounding Russian activity on Russian territory which does not threatens no one ”.

Kuleba’s warning about Russia came after international observers of the conflict said on Wednesday evening that there had been a dramatic increase in recent violations hampering their work.

“The number of violations recorded in the past two weeks has reached its highest level this year,” observers for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said in a statement.


Ukrainian soldiers are seen inside a fortified frontline position with Russian-backed separatists near the small town of Marinka in the Donetsk region on April 12, 2021 (STR / AFP)

The upsurge in fighting since the start of the year has seen Moscow and Kiev blame themselves for rising violence between government forces and separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine says the series of clashes claimed the lives of nearly 30 Ukrainian soldiers and left at least 68 others injured since January.

Kiev warned this week that 28,000 separatist fighters and more than 2,000 Russian military instructors and advisers are currently stationed in eastern Ukraine, while nearly 33,000 troops are deployed in Crimea.

However, the Russian Defense Ministry said these troops were only responding to NATO’s “threatening” actions by participating in military exercises that would end in three weeks.

The upsurge in fighting left a ceasefire negotiated last July in tatters that brought relative calm to the conflict.

“We are not afraid. Ukraine itself is strong enough and has reliable friends to defend its state, ”Kuleba said.

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