The Ukrainian military today said a soldier has been killed and another seriously wounded in artillery fire from Russia-backed separatist rebels, as hostilities rise sharply on the country’s eastern border. 

Tensions have soared in eastern Ukraine in recent weeks after Russian President Vladimir Putin dispatched tanks, helicopters and tens of thousands of troops to the Ukrainian border. 

Ukraine says 27 soldiers have now been killed in the region this year, more than half the number who died in all of 2020. 

The news comes as chilling footage on social media showed thousands of Russian tanks, missile trucks, armoured vehicles and long-range guns being transported on freight trains to Crimea and the border of the disputed eastern Ukrainian region of Donbass, which has been occupied by Russian-backed separatists since 2014. 

Russia denies Western claims that it has sent troops into eastern Ukraine to help the rebels, but officials say the army could intervene if Ukraine tries to retake the area by force. 

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov on Thursday said the situation in eastern Ukraine was ‘very unstable’ and warned it risked leading to ‘full-scale combat operations.’ 

As Kiev warned it could be ‘provoked’ by Russia’s aggression, several Western nations have voiced fears that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s move could trigger an all-out war, which could drag Nato allies, including Britain, into the conflict.       

Chilling footage on social media showed Russia moving tanks to Crimea and the border of the disputed eastern Ukrainian region of Donbass

Chilling footage on social media showed Russia moving tanks to Crimea and the border of the disputed eastern Ukrainian region of Donbass

Chilling footage on social media showed Russia moving tanks to Crimea and the border of the disputed eastern Ukrainian region of Donbass

Footage on social media has shown thousands of Russian tanks, missile trucks, armoured vehicles and long-range guns being transported on freight trains to Crimea and Donbass

Footage on social media has shown thousands of Russian tanks, missile trucks, armoured vehicles and long-range guns being transported on freight trains to Crimea and Donbass

Footage on social media has shown thousands of Russian tanks, missile trucks, armoured vehicles and long-range guns being transported on freight trains to Crimea and Donbass

The Ukrainian military today said a soldier has been killed and another seriously wounded in artillery fire from Russia-backed separatist rebels, as hostilities rise sharply on the country's eastern border. Pictured: A Ukrainian soldier is seen looking out on the line of separation from pro-Russian rebels near Donetsk, Ukraine on Saturday

The Ukrainian military today said a soldier has been killed and another seriously wounded in artillery fire from Russia-backed separatist rebels, as hostilities rise sharply on the country's eastern border. Pictured: A Ukrainian soldier is seen looking out on the line of separation from pro-Russian rebels near Donetsk, Ukraine on Saturday

The Ukrainian military today said a soldier has been killed and another seriously wounded in artillery fire from Russia-backed separatist rebels, as hostilities rise sharply on the country’s eastern border. Pictured: A Ukrainian soldier is seen looking out on the line of separation from pro-Russian rebels near Donetsk, Ukraine on Saturday

A Ukrainian armed forces fires in an attempt to shoot down an alleged unmanned aerial vehicle on the line of separation from pro-Russian rebels near Donetsk on Saturday

A Ukrainian armed forces fires in an attempt to shoot down an alleged unmanned aerial vehicle on the line of separation from pro-Russian rebels near Donetsk on Saturday

A Ukrainian armed forces fires in an attempt to shoot down an alleged unmanned aerial vehicle on the line of separation from pro-Russian rebels near Donetsk on Saturday

As Kiev warned it could be 'provoked' by Russia's aggression, several Western nations have voiced fears that Russian President Vladimir Putin's move could trigger an all-out war, which could drag Nato allies, including Britain, into the conflict. Pictured: Ukrainian soldiers on the line of separation from pro-Russian rebels near Donetsk on Saturday

As Kiev warned it could be 'provoked' by Russia's aggression, several Western nations have voiced fears that Russian President Vladimir Putin's move could trigger an all-out war, which could drag Nato allies, including Britain, into the conflict. Pictured: Ukrainian soldiers on the line of separation from pro-Russian rebels near Donetsk on Saturday

As Kiev warned it could be ‘provoked’ by Russia’s aggression, several Western nations have voiced fears that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s move could trigger an all-out war, which could drag Nato allies, including Britain, into the conflict. Pictured: Ukrainian soldiers on the line of separation from pro-Russian rebels near Donetsk on Saturday

The military build-up – the biggest since 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea – has so alarmed Western leaders that US president Joe Biden despatched two warships to the Black Sea. Pictured: A Ukrainian armed forces member on the line of separation from pro-Russian rebels near Donetsk on Saturday

The military build-up – the biggest since 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea – has so alarmed Western leaders that US president Joe Biden despatched two warships to the Black Sea. Pictured: A Ukrainian armed forces member on the line of separation from pro-Russian rebels near Donetsk on Saturday

The military build-up – the biggest since 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea – has so alarmed Western leaders that US president Joe Biden despatched two warships to the Black Sea. Pictured: A Ukrainian armed forces member on the line of separation from pro-Russian rebels near Donetsk on Saturday

Ukraine's government, led by President Volodymyr Zelensky, has accused Russia of planning to invade Donbass and condemned it for inciting violence between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian rebels. Pictured: A Ukrainian armed forces member walks near fighting positions on the line of separation from pro-Russian rebels near Donetsk on Saturday

Ukraine's government, led by President Volodymyr Zelensky, has accused Russia of planning to invade Donbass and condemned it for inciting violence between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian rebels. Pictured: A Ukrainian armed forces member walks near fighting positions on the line of separation from pro-Russian rebels near Donetsk on Saturday

Ukraine’s government, led by President Volodymyr Zelensky, has accused Russia of planning to invade Donbass and condemned it for inciting violence between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian rebels. Pictured: A Ukrainian armed forces member walks near fighting positions on the line of separation from pro-Russian rebels near Donetsk on Saturday

US secretary of state Antony Blinken warned that ‘if Russia acts recklessly, or aggressively, there will be costs, there will be consequences’.  

Kiev estimates that Putin has ordered 85,000 troops into Crimea and to strategic locations between six and 25 miles from the Donbass border. 

At least six 2S4 Tyulpan self-propelled mortars – capable of firing warheads 12 miles – were filmed on flat-bed trains. Dubbed the ‘city destroyer’, the weapon’s devastating power has demolished strongholds from Chechnya to Afghanistan. 

The military build-up – the biggest since 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea – has so alarmed Western leaders that US president Joe Biden dispatched two warships to the Black Sea. They will arrive later this week.

Biden sought permission from Turkey to transport vessels through the Bosphorus after his press secretary said the US is ‘increasingly concerned’ by Russian movements at the border.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry confirmed the American ships will pass through the narrow strait on April 14 and April 15. 

The official said the US notified Turkey 15 days prior to the ships’ passage in line with a convention which gives Ankara control of the straits.

Such visits by the US and other Nato ships have vexed Moscow, which has long bristled at Ukraine’s efforts to build up defence ties with the West and its aspirations to eventually join Nato.

Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists have been fighting in eastern Ukraine since shortly after Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

More than 14,000 people have died in the conflict, and efforts to negotiate a political settlement have stalled.

Ukraine says 27 soldiers have now been killed in the region this year, more than half the number who died in all of 2020

Ukraine says 27 soldiers have now been killed in the region this year, more than half the number who died in all of 2020

Ukraine says 27 soldiers have now been killed in the region this year, more than half the number who died in all of 2020

Ukrainian soldiers are seen at fighting positions on the line of separation from pro-Russian revels near Donetsk, Ukraine

Ukrainian soldiers are seen at fighting positions on the line of separation from pro-Russian revels near Donetsk, Ukraine

Ukrainian soldiers are seen at fighting positions on the line of separation from pro-Russian revels near Donetsk, Ukraine

A group of four Ukrainian soldiers make their way through land whilst carrying guns and artillery

A group of four Ukrainian soldiers make their way through land whilst carrying guns and artillery

A group of four Ukrainian soldiers make their way through land whilst carrying guns and artillery

A pair of Ukrainian soldiers pet a cat which stands atop a pile of tyres near the line of separation from pro-Russian rebels

A pair of Ukrainian soldiers pet a cat which stands atop a pile of tyres near the line of separation from pro-Russian rebels

A pair of Ukrainian soldiers pet a cat which stands atop a pile of tyres near the line of separation from pro-Russian rebels

Ukraine's government, led by President Volodymyr Zelensky, has accused Russia of planning to invade Donbass and condemned it for inciting violence between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian rebels

Ukraine's government, led by President Volodymyr Zelensky, has accused Russia of planning to invade Donbass and condemned it for inciting violence between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian rebels

Ukraine’s government, led by President Volodymyr Zelensky, has accused Russia of planning to invade Donbass and condemned it for inciting violence between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian rebels

A Ukrainian military service member practices boxing on the line of separation from pro-Russian revels near Donetsk on Saturday

A Ukrainian military service member practices boxing on the line of separation from pro-Russian revels near Donetsk on Saturday

A Ukrainian military service member practices boxing on the line of separation from pro-Russian revels near Donetsk on Saturday

Dominic Raab has urged Russia to ‘immediately de-escalate’ the situation at the Ukrainian border where Russia has been amassing troops.

The British Foreign Secretary shared a tweet on Sunday, saying the UK and US ‘firmly opposed’ Russia’s ‘campaign to destabilize Ukraine’.

‘Britain and the United States ‘firmly opposed’ Russia’s campaign to destabilize Ukraine and called on Russia to deescalate the situation. @SecBlinken & I agreed Russia must immediately de-escalate the situation & live up to the international commitments that it signed up to at @OSCE,’ the tweet read, referring to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

There were concerns for 100 British troops inside Ukraine who have been training the country’s forces as part of Operation Orbital. The Ministry of Defence said they were not in the eastern part of the country.

Ukraine’s government, led by President Volodymyr Zelensky, has accused Russia of planning to invade Donbass and condemned it for inciting violence between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian rebels.

Dmitry Kozak, the deputy head of Russia’s presidential administration, said Kiev government members were like ‘children playing with matches’, adding: ‘Military action… would be the beginning of the end of Ukraine.’

Zelensky met Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul on Saturday amid the rising tensions.

Raab (pictured) shared a tweet on Sunday, saying the UK and US 'firmly opposed' Russia's 'campaign to destabilize Ukraine' [File photo]

Raab (pictured) shared a tweet on Sunday, saying the UK and US 'firmly opposed' Russia's 'campaign to destabilize Ukraine' [File photo]

Raab (pictured) shared a tweet on Sunday, saying the UK and US ‘firmly opposed’ Russia’s ‘campaign to destabilize Ukraine’ [File photo]

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (left) met Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (right) in Istanbul on Saturday amid the rising tensions

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (left) met Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (right) in Istanbul on Saturday amid the rising tensions

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (left) met Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (right) in Istanbul on Saturday amid the rising tensions

Erdogan said he hoped the conflict would be resolved peacefully, through dialogue based on diplomatic customs, in line with international laws and Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

‘Our main goal is that the Black Sea continues to be a sea of peace, tranquility and cooperation,’ he said. 

Erdogan stressed that Turkey’s cooperation with Ukraine in the defence industry, which was the main item on the meeting’s agenda, was not a move against any third countries.  

MICHAEL BURLEIGH: Wounded Vladimir Putin turns up the heat as naked aggression threatens to reignite conflict

Vladimir Putin is sending a chilling message to the world.

For this naked aggression threatens to re-ignite the conflict in the region – Europe’s only major war – which began in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea and supported armed, Russian-speaking separatists in Eastern Ukraine with troops.

It is no wonder that Western governments are worried.

The US has deployed two warships to the Black Sea and sent its Secretaries of Defence and State to Nato headquarters in Brussels.

Western Governments fear that Vladimir Putin's moves could re-ignite conflict with Ukraine

Western Governments fear that Vladimir Putin's moves could re-ignite conflict with Ukraine

Western Governments fear that Vladimir Putin’s moves could re-ignite conflict with Ukraine

About 13,000 people have died in the conflict already. Soon, it is feared, there will be thousands more deaths.

The fact is that Russia has long struggled to accept that Ukraine, its vast and sprawling neighbour with which it shares many religious and historical links, is a sovereign state.

But there is more than Ukrainian independence at stake here. It is part of Putin’s grand plan, which has seen him flex Russian military muscle around the world in recent weeks.

Three Russian nuclear submarines broke through the Arctic icecap as the Kremlin deployed a new nuclear torpedo which, it claims, plausibly or not, could trigger a tsunami on America’s eastern seaboard.

Meanwhile, Russian fighter-bombers have been pulverising the remaining Isis forces in Idlib province, Syria.

And, on March 29, Nato fighters including RAF Typhoons had to scramble to intercept six groups of Russian bombers in an area encompassing the Baltic to the Black Sea.

Reservists of the 130th battalion of the Ukrainian Territorial Defence forces have attended military exercises on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine

Reservists of the 130th battalion of the Ukrainian Territorial Defence forces have attended military exercises on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine

Reservists of the 130th battalion of the Ukrainian Territorial Defence forces have attended military exercises on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine 

This multi-faceted show of force is quintessential Putin. As well as telling the world that Russia mustn’t be messed with, it has been designed for a domestic audience. Photos of Russian tank transporters and troop trains feature prominently on social media.

In truth, the Russian leader has had an awkward few months. Covid-19 has been a heavy blow, forcing Putin to spend the last year in strict quarantine – hardly the image a world strongman wishes to present.

He only had a vaccine last month, seemingly reluctant to be seen as a vulnerable 68-year-old.

All the while, he has watched, infuriated, as opposition leader Alexei Navalny received worldwide press coverage after the Russian authorities locked him up in a penal colony.

The Russian people are suffering, too. There have been none of the pandemic support measures familiar across the West. The economy is stagnant.

US President Joe Biden, pictured,  has despatched two warships to the Black Sea

US President Joe Biden, pictured,  has despatched two warships to the Black Sea

US President Joe Biden, pictured,  has despatched two warships to the Black Sea

And to top it all, US President Joe Biden tartly dismissed the Russian leader as a mere ‘killer’ and a man of no true importance in the new Cold War dividing the world between China and the US.

So where better for a wounded Putin to apply the heat than Ukraine?

It has been a characteristic of Putin, his country’s longest-serving leader since Stalin, to behave as if he was in sole control of a giant gas hob, raising or lowering the temperature at will.

However, Ukraine remains defiant. Last month, its young president, Volodymyr Zelensky, stripped a leading pro-Russian oligarch of three television stations which Putin needs to make his case inside Ukraine. 

Then, Zelensky intimated that Ukraine wished to join Nato, a move which would bring Western forces adjacent to Russia’s heartlands – an absolute ‘nyet’ for Moscow. Never slow to tell outrageous lies, the Russian government has suggested that Ukraine plans to carry out a massacre of ‘ethnic Russians’.

Ukraine's President, Volodymyr Zelensky has visited the eastern Ukrainian conflict zone

Ukraine's President, Volodymyr Zelensky has visited the eastern Ukrainian conflict zone

Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky has visited the eastern Ukrainian conflict zone

In truth, there is no ethnic difference between Ukrainian and Russian speakers in the region. Most people are bilingual and they are all Christian.

But the Kremlin has no time for such details.

Meantime, the world watches the region with deep concern.

Bad weather and muddy conditions make a fresh invasion of Ukraine unlikely before May, but the threat is real enough – and deadly.

As ever, Putin is telling Washington and its Nato allies that they ignore Russia at their peril, however puny its economy.

Significantly, he is inviting the West to find an urgent resolution to a Ukrainian conflict which, in his heart, he realises that Russia can neither afford to pay for – or lose.

That would, of course, be a resolution that would be made on his own terms.

Michael Burleigh is Senior Fellow at LSE Ideas.

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