DONETSK: Ukraine’s Western-backed leaders yesterday invited pro-Kremlin insurgents to a videoconference aimed at halting spiralling violence and what Kiev warned was an imminent invasion by thousands of Russian troops.
Kiev sharply raised the stakes in Europe’s most explosive crisis in decades by declaring on Monday that a Ukrainian transport plane downed in the eastern conflict zone had been hit by a rocket fired from the Russian side of the frontier between the two ex-Soviet states.
Russia has broken with its traditional denials of all links to the uprising by not publicly responding to the charge. A top Ukrainian general went a step further by telling a live television audience in Kiev that he feared a Russian invasion was imminent.
“Ukraine, like never before, stands on the cusp of a wide-scale aggression from our current northern border,” said National Security and Defence Council Deputy Secretary Mykhaylo Koval.
The former defence minister said the Kremlin had parked 22,000 troops in the annexed Black Sea peninsula of Crimea and had other units stretching from the north-central region of Chernigiv to the southeastern edge of the Russian-Ukranian border on the Sea of Azov.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s office said Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin also presented “photo and video evidence” of Russia covertly supplying the fighters with weapons and armoured vehicles.
President Vladimir Putin rejects accusations of orchestrating the uprising in reprisal for the February ouster of a Russian-backed leader and Kiev’s subsequent signature of a historic EU deal instead of a new Kremlin pact.