France and Germany have joined the European Union, the United States and others in voicing concern over a buildup of Russian soldiers at the border with Ukraine in recent days.
Ukraine’s government and the Nato military alliance both accused Russia last week of deploying military equipment and thousands of soldiers to border regions.
Coming as renewed clashes between pro-government forces and pro-Moscow separatists put an end to a truce that held through the second half of 2020, the incidents have led France and other Western powers to pledge support for Kiev and appeal for calm.
“France and Germany are concerned by the growing number of ceasefire violations in eastern Ukraine, which come after the situation had stabilised July 2020,” date of a truce that held for the second half of last year, read a joint statement issued Saturday.
“We are closely monitoring the situation and in particular Russian troop movements, and call on all sides to show restraint and to work towards the immediate de-escalation of tensions.”
Russia has not denied the buildup. Its army said Friday it was carrying out military exercises meant to simulate defenses in case of a drone attack.
The Kremlin on Monday reiterated previous remarks that the buildup and movement of troops were its own concern and posed no threat to anyone.
Weekend of worries
Ukraine said last week Russian troops were deployed to its north, east and the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow annexed in 2014, and warned about what their presence meant at a time of renewed clashes.
“We see a growing number of violations of ceasefire on the ground since January,” Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said at the weekend.
“Most of the losses we suffered were soldiers killed by snipers. This is something very deliberate and aimed at provoking fire in response.”
US President Joe Biden affirmed his support for Ukraine in a call to President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday, after Russia warned Western powers against sending troops to Kiev.
Following a conversation with Kuleba, the EU's top diplomat Josep Borrell pledged the bloc’s support for Kiev and concern about movements of Russian troops.
“Following with severe concern the Russian military activity surrounding Ukraine,” tweeted Borrell, high representative of the EU for foreign affairs.
“Unwavering EU support for [Ukraine's] sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Borrell said he would meet with Kuleba and foreign ministers of the 27 EU member states later in April.
Truce falls through
After a truce that prevailed through the second half of 2020, clashes between pro-government forces and Russia-backed separatists resumed in January in eastern Ukraine.
Zelensky said last week that 20 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed since the start of the year. Each side has blamed the other for the incidents.
The conflict in eastern Ukraine began in 2014, after a Western-backed uprising overturned a pro-Moscow government in Kiev and Russia annexed Crimea.
In their statement, France and Germany called on different parties to respect the Minsk accords of February 2015, the result of talks they helped facilitate between the Ukrainian and Russian leadership.
To date, multiple ceasefires have given way to routine violations. In seven years, the conflict has killed about 13,000 people, according to the United Nations.
Paris and Berlin also welcomed the extension of an international monitoring mission of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and called on parties to the conflict to allow the mission to carry out its work.