Russian President Vladimir Putin compares Donbas war zone in Ukraine to ‘genocide’

Russian President Vladimir Putin has compared the Donbas war zone in Ukraine to “genocide”.

Rebels backed by Moscow have been fighting Ukrainian troops in the conflict zone since 2014 and tensions have been growing in recent months, as Russia amasses troops on the border.

The Ukrainian military accused separatists of six new violations of a broken-down 2020 ceasefire on Thursday, three of them involving weapons banned under earlier peace agreements, that Moscow and Kiev say they are trying to revive.

Mr Putin‘s remarks on Thursday were aimed at addressing alleged discrimination against Russian speakers outside of Russian, many of whom live in the Donbas region.

“We see and know what is happening in Donbas. It certainly looks like genocide,” he said, referring to the conflict zone

Finger-pointing from both sides

Ukraine and Russia blamed each other after a push to agree on a new ceasefire in eastern Ukraine broke down late on Thursday.

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Ukraine said Moscow rejected a series of its proposals, including prisoner swaps, reopening a checkpoint and expanding a joint communications centre.

“Unfortunately, all initiatives of the Ukrainian side were rejected by the Russian Federation under contrived pretexts,” a statement by Ukraine’s delegation to the Trilateral Contact Group (TCG), which also includes Russia and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), said.

Russia said late on Thursday that Kiev had submitted “absolutely absurd” proposals and accused it of imitating negotiations at the talks.

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Moscow singled out a proposal to add Germany and France to the Joint Centre for Control and Coordination, a group tasked with implementing ceasefire agreements.

It was not immediately clear if there would be new talks to try to get the ceasefire push back on track.

International community believes Russia will invade Ukraine

There are concerns from the international community that Russia is planning to invade Ukraine next year, an accusation which Moscow denies.

Ukraine, which is seeking to join NATO, says it fears an invasion, but Moscow says its posture is purely defensive.

The Russian Foreign Ministry accused Ukraine of moving heavy artillery towards the front line of fighting with pro-Russian separatists in the east of the former Soviet republic and failing to engage in a peace process.

US intelligence suggested that Moscow could invade Ukraine in 2022 and Mr Putin and US President Joe Biden held talks recently in a bit to ease tensions after Washington warned the Kremlin of tough sanctions if it attacks its neighbour.

Mr Biden has told Mr Putin that the US and its allies would respond with “strong economic and other measures” if Russia invaded Ukraine.

The two leaders spoke via a secure video link for two hours as western nations continue to grapple with how to counter a massive build-up of Russian troops along Ukraine‘s border.

The US president’s team described the call as “direct and straightforward”. The Kremlin said it was “frank and business-like”.

On Thursday, a Ukrainian warship headed toward the Kerch Strait, which separates Russia and the annexed peninsula of Crimea.

According to the Russian intelligence service (FSB), the ship did not react to a request to change its course, but the vessel later headed back.

The Ukrainian defence minister said it was a search-and-rescue ship with no weapons on board.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov agreed with a reporter who suggested East-West tensions over Ukraine could turn into a rerun of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis when the United States and the Soviet Union stood on the brink of nuclear war.

Mr Biden said on Wednesday he hoped for an announcement by Friday of high-level meetings with Russia and major NATO allies to discuss Moscow’s concerns and the possibility of “bringing down the temperature along the eastern front”.

Russia on Thursday kept up a barrage of hostile rhetoric towards Ukraine and compared the crisis there to the most dangerous moment of the Cold War.

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