Kremlin Warns of Risk of Broader War in Ukraine Conflict
Armed Russian soldiers wearing protective face masks ride in a military vehicle in Moscow, Russia. (Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg)

Kremlin Warns of Risk of Broader War in Ukraine Conflict

Russia warned that growing violence in Ukraine could set off a broader military conflict, brushing off German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s call to pull back troops massed near the border.

“The escalation of tensions in the southeast of Ukraine justifies the measures Russia is taking,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on a conference call Friday, referring to the military buildup. “The trend in the behavior of the Ukrainian side creates the risk of a resumption of full-scale military action,” he said.

Ceasefire violations in the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine have grown in recent weeks and Russia has moved thousands of troops into the area near the border. Moscow accuses Ukraine of preparing for a new offensive against the Russian-backed separatist regions there.

Russia’s allegations “are not true,” Colonel-General Ruslan Khomchak, the Ukrainian army chief, said in a statement Friday. “Russian is artificially exacerbating the situation to achieve its own geostrategic goals.”

Amid the deepening crisis, Turkey said its NATO ally the U.S. had notified it that two warships would cross into the Black Sea and remain there until May 4. Russia continued nationwide military exercises announced by the Defense Ministry on Tuesday.

‘Unprecedented’ Escalation

Calling the current escalation “rather unprecedented,” Peskov’s comments seemed to reflect a hardening of Russia’s position. They came a day after the Kremlin’s top envoy for the conflict seemed to play down the significance of what Moscow claims is a military buildup by Kyiv in the contested region.

Russia’s local bonds have dropped every day this week, lifting the yield on the 10-year benchmark more than a quarter percentage point in the period. The ruble was the biggest decliner in emerging markets on Friday against the dollar after the Brazilian real, Czech koruna and Peruvian sol, trading 0.6% weaker at 77.28 per dollar as of 5:38 p.m. in Moscow.

Ukrainian eurobonds due in 2033 dropped for the first time in three days, lifting the yield five basis points to 7.39%. The hryvnia was little changed at 27.9412 per dollar, leaving it 0.3% stronger in the week.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who spent a second day on Friday visiting frontline troops in the country’s east, will travel to Turkey for talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday, according to a statement from the Turkish leader’s office.

Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed Ukraine in a phone call Friday, the Kremlin said in a statement. Putin accused Ukraine of “dangerous provocative actions aimed at aggravating the situation” in the conflict zone, according to the statement.

Merkel spoke to Putin about the situation in a call Thursday, appealing to him to reverse the buildup to reduce tensions. Putin responded that Russia has the right to move its forces where it deems necessary on its own territory, Peskov said.

Zelenskiy plans to speak to Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron about the Russian military presence near Ukraine’s border. He may go to Paris for talks with Macron before the end of next week, the Kyiv Post reported Friday, citing the French ambassador to Ukraine.

The growing tensions have drawn calls from the U.S. and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies for Russia to de-escalate, but so far the Kremlin has shown little sign of backing down.

Russian officials and analysts suggested the buildup was meant as a signal to Kyiv and its western allies not to make a move against the Moscow-backed separatists, rather than a prelude to actual military action. But the cease-fire violations and rising rhetoric have raised fears that combat could spread as it did in the 2014 war, which killed thousands.

Peskov didn’t specify what evidence the Kremlin saw for his claim that the risk of “civil war” in Ukraine is rising. Authorities in Kyiv reject that idea, arguing that the 2014 conflict was fomented by Russian intervention and pointing the finger at Moscow for the latest escalation.

Large Buildup

The U.S. has said the Russian buildup near the border is the largest since the war. Peskov declined to comment on the scale of the military moves, saying only that Russia views them as justified.

The troop buildup and the increasingly warlike rhetoric reflect a growing risk of direct conflict with Ukraine, said Andrey Kortunov, head of the Kremlin-founded Russian International Affairs Council.

With hundreds of thousands of residents in the separatist areas now Russian citizens thanks to a Kremlin campaign to distribute passports, Russia may openly come to their defense if Kyiv launches an attack on the rebel-held east, he said by phone.

Ukraine says it has no plans for such an offensive.

“Moscow is trying to frighten Kyiv but it’s hard to say if the Ukrainians will get the message,” Kortunov said.

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