Ukraine puts troops on combat alert amid standoff with Russia

2016-08-12 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio)  Ukraine has put its troops on combat alert along the country's de-facto borders with Crimea and separatist rebels in the east. The move comes amid escalating tensions with Russia and fears of an all-our war between the two neighbours. Russia earlier allegedly mobilized tens of thousands of troops to counter what it called Ukrainian saboteurs trying to enter the Russian-controlled Crimean Peninsula. Kiev claims Moscow is preparing a wider military campaign against Ukraine.

Listen to Stefan Bos' report:

In a statement obtained by Vatican Radio, Ukraine's Foreign Ministry condemned what it called "another Kremlin-manufactured provocation." The Ministry said it is "particularly concerned about the concentration of Russian weaponry, armaments and military forces" in what it described "as temporarily occupied territories in Crimea and Donbas in eastern Ukraine as well as along the Ukrainian-Russian border."

The Ministry added that the Kremlin is "undertaking another hybrid special operation with the aim to justify its future aggressive actions against Ukraine."

Ukraine's United Nations Ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko has told reporters that Russia already amassed tens of thousands of troops in the region. "We are talking all together about more than 40 thousand of Russian troops both inside Ukraine including Crimea, and very close to the Ukrainian border on the territory of Russia," he said. "This is not a coincidence, these numbers may reflect some very bad intentions, and this is the last thing that we would like to happen."

These actions prompted Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to put his troops on combat alert. The tensions began after Moscow accused his country of sending several groups of "saboteurs" to carry out attacks in Crimea and said that two Russians died while fending off their incursions.

Ukraine denies claim

Ukraine has denied the claim. Its U.N ambassador Yelchenko suggests that Moscow is lying about the alleged Ukrainian attacks. "If their allegations on what happened, this so called terrorist attempt of Ukraine across the border of Crimea, if it happened in reality, where are the proofs, statements, pictures, photos, videos or whatever. They are only words."

Amid the escalating war of words, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Friday that Russia could break diplomatic ties with Ukraine, something it didn't even do after annexing Crimea or throwing its support behind separatist rebels in the east.

Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014 following a hastily called referendum. A a conflict between Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces flared up in eastern Ukraine weeks later. That conflict in the east has killed more than 9,500 people and is still raging.

The United States and the NATO military alliance fear the tensions could lead to a wider military conflict and further undermine an already fragile peace process.  However criticizing can be dangerous: A court in Russia-annexed Crimea has ruled that a noted Crimean Tatar activist, Ilmi Umerov, must be placed in a psychiatric clinic for examination after he condemned Russia's control over the region.

And another court in Russia has refused to grant early release on parole to a Russian activist in the southern region of Krasnodar who was jailed on charges of propagating extremism and separatism via the Internet. Darya Polyudova was sentenced to two years in a minimum-security penal colony in December after she criticized Moscow online for its support of Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine's east.

(from Vatican Radio)