Germany urges Russia to reduce troop presence near Ukraine

File photo taken in 2019 of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russia's President Vladimir Putin

File photo taken in 2019 of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russia's President Vladimir Putin

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday called on the Kremlin to unwind its recent military build-up near eastern Ukraine, her office said in a statement.

Recent clashes between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian forces have sparked fears of an escalation in the conflict in Ukraine's eastern Donbass region.

During a phone call with Russia's President Vladimir Putin, Merkel and the Kremlin leader discussed other topics, including the jailing of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny.

What did the Kremlin say?

Following the call, the Kremlin also released a statement saying the two leaders "expressed concerns over the escalation of tensions in the southeast of Ukraine."

"Vladimir Putin drew attention to the provocative actions of Kyiv, which has recently been purposefully exacerbating the situation on the frontline," it said.

The deputy head of Russia's presidential administration, Dmitry Kozak, was quoted by the TASS agency on Thursday as saying that any major military hostilities could mean "the beginning of the end of Ukraine." He argued that Russia would be forced to defend its citizens in eastern Ukraine.

What is the situation in Donbass?

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy Thursday was headed to Donbass. He said he was "going to the locations of the escalation," adding that "Ukraine needs peace and will do everything for this."

Russia and Ukraine accuse each other of escalating tensions between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists. On March 26 alone, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) recorded hundreds of ceasefire violations.

Ukraine has repeatedly called on the Kremlin to pull its troops away from the border, with Russia responding that internal troop movements are a domestic issue and arguing that it is entitled to protect Russian-speaking citizens in Donbass if the shaky ceasefire does not hold.

The European Union, NATO and the United States have recently condemned the Russian military build-up on the border.

The conflict has killed at least 14,000 people since Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014, according to Ukraine.

fb/msh (AFP, dpa, Reuters, AP)

Updated : 2021-04-14 04:09 GMT+08:00