Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has asked for a telephone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin about Moscow’s troop buildup across the border and escalating tensions in eastern Ukraine, but the request has not been answered, a spokeswoman said on Monday.
The concentration of Russian troops along the frontier comes amid a surge of ceasefire breaches in eastern Ukraine, where Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces have been locked in a conflict since Moscow’s 2014 annexation of the 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,” Zelenskiy’s spokeswoman Iuliia Mendel said.
The request was lodged on March 26, when four Ukrainian troops were killed in a mortar attack in the east of Ukraine, she said.
However, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday said that he had not seen any requests from Zelenskiy “in recent days.”
Western and Ukrainian officials have raised concerns about increasingly frequent ceasefire breaches in the conflict area. Reports of Ukrainian military casualties have been occurring daily over the past week, while the rebels have also reported losses.
Ukraine’s military on Monday reported one more troop killed, bringing the total to 28 this year.
The G7 foreign ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US on Monday said that they were deeply concerned by the large ongoing buildup of Russian military forces “on Ukraine’s borders and in illegally-annexed Crimea.”
They said the large scale troop movements are threatening and destabilizing, urging Russia “to cease its provocations.”
Zelenskiy is expected to head to Paris soon for talks with French President Emmanuel Macron, Mendel said.
She said that Russia has accumulated 41,000 troops at its border with eastern Ukraine and 42,000 more in Crimea. The numbers are likely to grow, as the troops “keep arriving,” she said.
During a telephone call with Putin last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for the removal of Russian troop reinforcements “to achieve a de-escalation of the situation.”
Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert on Monday said Germany has been following the Russian military buildup along the border with Ukraine very closely, adding that it has been “of great concern to us.”
The Kremlin has maintained that Russia is free to deploy its troops wherever it wants in its territory and has repeatedly accused the Ukrainian military of “provocative actions” along the line of control in the east and of having plans to retake control of the rebel regions by force.
Kremlin officials say that Kiev’s actions have threatened Russia’s security, warning that Russia could intervene to protect Russian speakers in the east of Ukraine.
Speaking on a trip to Egypt on Monday, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov said that “the current regime in Kiev might resort to reckless actions in an attempt to restore its [popularity] ratings.”
Amid the rising tensions, the US has notified Turkey that two of its warships are to arrive in the Black Sea today and tomorrow, and stay there until May 4 and May 5.
Russia has bristled at Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO, and its increasing military cooperation with the US and its allies.
Lavrov said that while Russia was moving troops in its own territory, “a question what the US ships and servicemen taking part in NATO activities in Ukraine are doing thousands of kilometers away from its territory has remained unanswered.”
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