Kiev says Russia is stepping up support for pro-Moscow groups in separatist regions as senior US and Russian diplomats meet.
Ukraine has accused Russia of increasing supplies of weapons, ammunition and military equipment to separatist regions in Ukraine, while actively recruiting mercenaries to fight the ongoing conflict.
Allegations of Kiev’s military intelligence came on Friday when US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met in Geneva, the latest attempt at diplomacy aimed at easing fears of a Russian invasion.
The agency said Moscow was “continuing to increase the combat capabilities of pro-Russian separatists” and since earlier this month has “secretly transferred more than 7,000 tonnes of fuel, several tanks and self-propelled artillery units by rail and road” to the regions.
It says Russia is also undertaking “active recruitment of mercenaries” who are being sent to separatist-controlled regions.
Neighbors have been involved in the separatist conflict in Ukraine’s eastern regions, especially in Donetsk and Luhansk, since April 2014. Fighting began after mass protests prompted the then Moscow-friendly leader of Ukraine to flee to Russia.
Russia, for its part, has annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea.
Kiev says at least 14,000 people have been killed in eight years of violence and, along with its Western allies, blame Russia and the militants and weapons sent for the bloodshed.
Meanwhile, lawmakers in Russia’s parliament on Friday introduced a bill that would ask President Vladimir Putin to recognize the independence of pro-Moscow separatist regions in Donetsk and Luhansk.
Vyacheslav Volodin, chairman of the lower house, said such a move, which would almost certainly infuriate Ukraine and provoke condemnation from the West, would be a “solution to ensure the security of our citizens and compatriots” in both regions.
Fears of invasion
The latest machinations are coming as fears in Ukraine and the West over the week-long build-up of 100,000 Russian troops on Ukraine’s border reach a fever.
Last week, US and Ukrainian officials said “Russian influential participants” had already launched a “false flag operation” designed to “fabricate Ukrainian provocations” and “justify Russian interference.”
Moscow has denied planning an attack, but said it could take unspecified military action if its demands are not met. The demands include a permanent ban on Ukraine’s NATO membership, which the United States and its European allies have already rejected, and the removal of much of the US and Allied military presence in Eastern Europe.
Washington and its allies have repeatedly promised “severe” consequences, including severe economic sanctions if a Russian invasion takes place.
Before meeting with Lavrov on Friday, Blinken met with Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky in Kiev and senior diplomats from Britain, France and Germany in Berlin, where he stressed the unity of the United States with its allies.
This came after President Joe Biden on Wednesday drew widespread criticism, including from Zelensky, for saying revenge for Russia’s aggression in Ukraine would depend on details, while suggesting that a “minor invasion” would provoke an internal battle. “Among NATO allies on how to proceed.
Zelenski replied on Twitter: “We want to remind the great powers that there are no small raids and small nations. As there are no small victims and grief from the loss of loved ones. “
Biden later clarified that “any Russian troops gathered” crossing the Ukrainian border would be considered an “invasion.”
Speaking on Friday, Lavrov said it was “premature” to start talking about a summit between Presidents Biden and Putin, but that another meeting with Blinken was possible in the near future.
Lavrov called the talks “constructive and useful” and said Washington had agreed to provide a written response next week that would show “whether we are on the right track or not”.