Moscow could intervene to help Russian-speaking residents in eastern Ukraine if Ukraine launches a massive offensive against separatists in Ukraine, a senior Russian official has warned.
Russian-backed separatist rebels and Ukrainian forces have clashed in the country’s east.
Russia has also been building troops along its border with Ukraine.
The official, Dmitry Kozak, said Russian forces could intervene to “defend” their citizens.
Everything depends on the size of the fire, he said.
He also warned that climbing could mark the end” for Ukraine, “not a shot in the leg, but a shot to the face.”
Both the U.S. and Germany have expressed concern over the escalation of tensions.
Why are tensions escalating between Ukraine and Russia?
Russia has increase the number of troops on the Ukrainian border, but insists they not see as a threat.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki says the number of Russian troops is at its highest level since the conflict began in eastern Ukraine in 2014. He described the situation as “deeply disturbing.”
Fighting between Ukrainian forces and Moscow-backed rebels in Donbass has also escalated in recent months.
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On Thursday, another Ukrainian soldier died, bringing the death toll this year to 25. In all of last year, 50 Ukrainian soldiers killed.
One of their fighters died on the same day Ukrainian forces fired 14 mortar shells into a village on the outskirts of Donetsk, the rebels said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited the region on Thursday to inspect the “mountaineering site” and “be with our troops during tough times in Donbass.”
Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke by phone with Putin on Thursday, calling on Russia to “reduce tensions” by reducing the number of troops.
In the same call, Putin accused Ukraine of inciting the situation in the East.
What do other Kremlin officials say?
In Moscow, Kozak compared the current state of the separatists to Srebrenica, a city in Bosnia and Herzegovina where 80 Muslim men killed by Bosnian Serb forces in 1995.
“If, as our president puts it, Srebrenica exists, we may have to defend them,” Kozak says, “he is deputy to the Russian president’s office.
Russian President Vladimir Putin first announced in 2019 that Russian-speaking residents could suffer a massacre similar to Srebrenica if Ukraine regained full control of Donbass without guarantees.
Yet such debacles have not reported.
Mr. Kozak said the rebels could now face Ukrainian forces because they made up of “reinforced combat forces.”
What is the background to all this?
The root causes of the current conflict date back to Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region in March 2014.
This has created a major break with the West, which has prompted the EU and US to impose sanctions on Russia.
A month later, Russian-backed rebels took over the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of the Russian-dominated Donbass region.
Western countries and NATO accuse Russia of sending troops across the border to Ukraine, but Russia sees any Russian fighter as “voluntary.”
Ukraine’s President Dzlensky came to power promising peace and signed a ceasefire last July. Both sides have since accused the other of violating the charge.
Some 14,000 people have died from the conflict.