The Kremlin's latest statements out Friday amid the potential new Ukraine crisis which has seen a serious flare-up in fighting in the Donbass region, along with what appears to be far bigger-than-usual troop movements on Russia's side of the border, has raised the stakes further.
Russia has vowed it will take "extra measures to ensure its own security" should it observe any deployment of NATO troops inside Ukraine, the Kremlin statement said Friday according to Reuters.
It firmly warned against any potential looming NATO troop movements following Brussels voicing concern the day prior over the widespread reports and videos purporting to show a significant Russian build-up of forces along Ukraine's eastern border.
Reuters reports Russia's Friday statement and "warning" as follows:
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Friday that the situation at the contact line in eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian government forces and Russian-backed separatist forces was quite frightening and that multiple "provocations" were taking place there.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Thursday spoke with his Ukrainian counterpart, Andrii Taran, and "condemned recent escalations of Russian aggressive and provocative actions in eastern Ukraine," the Pentagon said.
"Our rhetoric [over Donbass] is absolutely constructive," Peskov said in response to journalists' questions. "We do not indulge in wishful thinking. Regrettably, the realities along the engagement line are rather frightening. Provocations by the Ukrainian armed forces do take place. They are not casual. There have been many of them."
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky condemned the Russian troop movements across the border, calling the situation "muscle-flexing" likely to lead to "provocations" for which Ukraine's army is "ready"...
Muscle-flexing in the form of military exercises on the border with #Ukraine is an attempt to put pressure in the negotiations on ceasefire and peace as our value. We are always ready for provocations. 🇺🇦 army is not only strength and power, but also wisdom and balance.— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) April 1, 2021
It was exactly a week ago that fighting in Donetsk grabbed international headlines once again when four Ukrainian national troops were killed, which Kiev promptly blamed on Russia-backed separatists. However, the Donetsk People’s Republic claimed it wasn't the result of a direct exchange of fire, but due to inspecting a minefield.
Ukraine's parliament followed by announcing a sharp "escalation" in the east - a contested region which has seen 14,000 deaths going back to 2014, and the country's military leadership put the armed forces on high alert.
This also as Russian troops and armor were spotted headed into the Crimea and Ukraine's east border region, however, Moscow brushed off the concerns while saying it's routine to transfer forces within one's own borders and sovereign territory.
MORE RUSSIAN VEHICLES EN ROUTE TO UKRAINEpic.twitter.com/ivdr910y2v— The_Real_Fly (@The_Real_Fly) April 2, 2021
Days later on Wednesday the US European Command (EUCOM) issued a notification of a raised 'threat level' in Europe. The designation is currently officially raised to one of "potential imminent crisis" due to concerns over Eastern Ukraine.
Meanwhile intense shelling on the ground in Donetsk has continued this week, with all signs pointing to further escalation and intensity in fighting...
#Ukraine: Russian-backed separatist of the Donetsk People's Republic (DNR) have announced military conscription for citizens born 1994 - 2003. This comes at a time of drastically increased fighting on the frontlines in the Donbas. Not looking good. pic.twitter.com/pwn03I0Cc6— Jake Hanrahan (@Jake_Hanrahan) April 2, 2021
And on Thursday an unnamed EU diplomat was cited in Reuters as speculating the perceived build-up in Russian forces is ultimately about Russia's posturing to gain leverage with the new Biden administration - which so far hasn't had much of a big geopolitical challenge.
"Partly, it is the usual tactics, turning up and down the conflict to create instability, to show that Russia is a key player," the EU diplomat said. "We cannot exclude that Biden’s presidency is part of the Russian calculus, that it’s time for Moscow to show a bit of muscle."
But Russia has pointed out that in no way is it in its interest to see a 'hot conflict' in Donbass:
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that most of Ukraine’s military appeared to understand the danger of a "hot conflict" in Donbass.
"I very much hope that they will not be 'incited' by politicians, who in turn will be 'incited' by the West, led by the United States," said Lavrov.
Lavrov further issued an ominous warning: "Russian President Putin said (this) not long ago, but this statement is still relevant today, that those who would try to start a new war in Donbass - will destroy Ukraine."