Ukraine on brink as Russia calls bluff on ‘one year’ warning: ‘Time is ticking’

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Fears of conflict have gathered momentum following the emergence of Russian troops gathering near to the border with Ukraine, sparking huge concern for nations across the West. There has been a surge in violence in the region of Donbass, which is where forces from Russia and Ukraine have clashed since 2014, leading to the deaths of at least 14,000 people. Both countries have condemned the other for this rise in tension.

With panic spreading across the West, figures from the UK, US and NATO have all rallied to attack Russian President Vladimir Putin over the move to bolster troops in the Donbass.

Parts of the region were taken seven years ago, at the same time Russia annexed Crimea.

This escalation could have been eased if Moscow had listened to Mr Zelenskiy’s warning to Russia last year, when he told Putin that an agreement over reducing tensions over the region had to be made.

He said in March 2020 that he still felt a pact could be struck with Putin to end the war, but admitted he would “walk away from talks after a year” if there was no signs of progress between the countries, The Guardian reported.

Mr Zelenskiy said: “Time is ticking. The government can spend one year on the entire agreement.

“Then it should be implemented. Any longer is prohibited.”

But Russia’s move to increase troops appears to show that it was willing to call Mr Zelenskiy’s bluff, and press ahead with its own plans.

Mr Zelenskiy did, however, claim in 2019 he had a meeting with Putin where he felt the Russian had “listened to me”, but did gloomily add: “I hope it’s not a false feeling.”

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He also spoke of the wish to have further backing from the US over the row, saying: “I want them to support us more strongly”.

This call appears to have been answered as it emerged that US President Joe Biden delivered a number of reassurances to his Ukrainian counterpart in a 50-minute discussion on Friday.

Following the conversation, Mr Zelenskiy noted that Mr Biden “assured me that Ukraine will never be left alone against Russia’s aggression”.

A US statement added: “President Biden affirmed the United States’ unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression in the Donbass and Crimea.”

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Among the others to display their worry was Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who confessed to being “gravely concerned” at the escalating row.

The EU also described how Russia had “launched yet another conscription campaign in the illegally-annexed Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol to draft residents of the peninsula in the Russian Federation Armed Forces”.

It added: “This is another violation of international humanitarian law. The Russian Federation is bound by international law, and obliged to ensure the protection of human rights on the peninsula.”

But Russia fired back, claiming that if NATO opted to deploy troops to the region, tensions would deepen, and force Moscow to “take extra measures to ensure its own security”.

Dr Jade McGlynn, writing for the Spectator in February, detailed how after there was a “marked increase in ceasefire violations in the Donbass”, the West “must remain alert to the possibility of increased hostilities in Ukraine”.

She explained how when Putin’s “popularity is threatened” Russian state media “amplifies and heightens such narratives”.

At the time, Putin was under international pressure for his imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, which sparked nationwide protests against his action.

But she added: “When the Kremlin launches these provocations, the West’s response must be sober, empirical and de-escalatory.

“This is how we avoid playing into the Kremlin’s hands or helping them to deflect attention from those who deserve it: the brave Russians protesting Putin’s corrupt and coercive system of control.”

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