Vladimir Putin has deployed 32 Russian tanks in northern Crimea this week, in a buildup that suggests a war between the two countries is about to break out.
Russia has closed its checkpoints along the Crimean border with Ukraine citing fears that the former Soviet state is planning to attack Russia.
NATO has condemned Russian “aggression”, saying the convoy of 32 tanks, 16 howitzer cannons and 30 trucks of troops and equipment could spark a World War 3 scenario with its neighbour.
Sky News reports:
Ukraine’s military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said in a televised briefing: “The deployment continues of military equipment and Russian mercenaries to the front lines.”
Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko described the action as a “significant” violation of the truce signed on 5 September at Minsk. That deal was meant to stall the conflict in the east, which has claimed more than 4,000 lives.
“The President noted a significant deviation from the implementation of the Minsk (ceasefire) protocol, which is leading to further escalation of the conflict” a statement on the presidential website said.
A NATO military officer said the alliance was looking into the reports, confirming it had seen an increase in Russian troops and equipment being moved along the Russia-Ukraine border.
“If this crossing into Ukraine is confirmed it would be further evidence of Russia’s aggression and direct involvement in destabilising Ukraine,” the officer said on condition of anonymity.
The news sparked panic in Russia’s currency market, with the euro reaching the 60 ruble mark for the first time in a year when it has lost more than a third of its value against the US dollar.
Last Sunday, the pro-Russian side held a controversial election, which led to separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenko, 38, being sworn in as head of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic.
On Thursday tensions were further heightened when five Ukrainian soldiers were killed and 16 injured in fighting.
However, Kremlin foreign policy advisor Yuri Ushakov said that Russia was committed to the Minsk ceasefire agreement in eastern Ukraine and wanted to build on peace talks.
Russian president Vladimir Putin is due to meet a number of world leaders next week, including UK Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande, Mr Ushakov said.
He will meet International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde during an Asia-Pacific summit in Beijing on 10 and 11 November and there is also the possibility of an “impromptu meeting” with US president Barack Obama, the first meeting between the two since June when they met at D-Day anniversary services in France.
The conflict began in February when gunmen took over government buildings in Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, raising the Russian flag a week after elected Moscow-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych, was toppled after pro-European protests.
Just months later, pro-Russian fighters seized control of government buildings across the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, sending Russia’s relationship with the West to its lowest point since the Cold War.
Ukrainian troops and separatists are still fighting near the airport of the main rebel-held city of Donetsk and a few other areas, with Ukraine’s president ordering more troops on the front line to prevent further losses of territory to the rebels.