Tensions rising in East West as Russian troops gather at Ukraine's border

2014-04-25 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) Tensions are rising in the most serious East-West confrontation since the collapse of the Soviet Union with Russia moving tens of thousands of troops near its border with Ukraine, while the NATO military alliance is boosting its presence in several nearby Eastern European countries.

Amid the turmoil, Ukrainian Prime Minster Arseniy Yatsenyuk accused Russia of seeking to start World War III by occupying Ukraine both “militarily and politically”, creating a conflict that he warned would spread across Europe.

He spoke amid reports that as many as seven pro-Russian separatists died in clashes with Ukrainian security forces in the east of the country.

"Attempts at military conflict in Ukraine will lead to a military conflict in Europe," Yatsenyuk told the interim cabinet in remarks broadcast live. "The world has not yet forgotten World War II, but Russia already wants to start World War Three."

As many as 40.000 Russian troops are believed to participate in Moscow's massive show of forces just outside Ukraine's borders. Moscow says they are military exercises in response to what it calls Ukraine’s escalating operations against pro-Russian separatists, who want to join Russia.


Ukraine's Interior Ministry said pro-Russian "insurgents" were killed amid clashes for control over the eastern city of Sloviansk, a separatists’ stronghold.

Ukrainian officials claim they have dismantled several illegal checkpoints, including around the eastern city of Sloviansk as well as regaining control of at least one government building in the port city of Mariupol.

Western observers say well-armed Ukrainian special forces appear to be involved in what has been described as Ukraine's most serious battle since the latest crisis began after the ouster of its pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych.

The actions have prompted an angry reaction from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who accused the U.S. of controlling events in Ukraine. "Well, it’s quite telling that they chose a moment of [the] vice-president of the United States visit to announce the resumption of this operation because the launching of this operation happened immediately after the John Brennan’s visit to Kiev," he said in an interview.

"So I don’t have any reasons not to believe that the Americans are running the show in a very close way."


And in a worrying sign to the west, Lavrov did not rule our direct Russian military action in eastern Ukraine. "If we are attacked, we would certainly respond," the minister warned.

"If our interests, our legitimate interests, the interests of Russians have been attacked directly, like they were in South Ossetia for example, I do not see any other way but to respond in full accordance with international law. Russian citizens being attacked is an attack against the Russian Federation," Lavrov said.

Russian Defence Minister Serguei Shoigu defended Moscow's decision to send tanks as close as eight kilometres from Ukraine's borders.

“If this military machine is not stopped," he said, "it will lead to greater numbers of dead and wounded." Shoigu also acknowledged that the Russian movements were a reaction to NATO’s decision to boost troops in its eastern European member states.

"Planned exercises by NATO forces in Poland and the Baltic countries do not foster normalisation of the situation surrounding

Ukraine, either.”


On Wednesday, five NATO warships took part in a “battle stations” exercises on the waters of the Baltic Sea, while hundreds of additional American troops were rushed to Poland as well as Baltic states Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

Separately, Britain, Netherlands and Denmark scrambled fighter jets after Russian military aircraft were seen approaching their airspace.

"It is clear that Russia's goal is to wreck the [May 25 presidential] election in Ukraine, remove the pro-Western and pro-Ukrainian government and occupy Ukraine politically as well as military," Ukrainian Prime Minister Yatsenyuk said.

He took office in February after pro-European protests prompted the pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych to flee to Russia.

Listen to Stefan Bos’ report: