Russian mercenaries have deployed to separatist-controlled eastern Ukraine to bolster defences against government forces as tensions between Moscow and the West rise.
Russia has moved tens of thousands of regular troops to staging posts closer to Ukraine and followed up by demanding urgent security guarantees from the West designed, Moscow says, to prevent Ukraine and other neighbouring countries being used as a base to attack it.
The West and Ukraine have for their part accused Russia of weighing a fresh attack on its southern neighbour as soon as next month, something Moscow denies.
Vladimir Putin claimed eastern Ukraine is Russian and demanded NATO give ‘security guarantees’ amid fears he is poised to invade the country but played down talk of war and said he welcomed peace talks with the US.
During his annual end-of-year press conference, Putin described Ukraine as historical territories that fell outside of Russia after the Soviet Union’s collapse.
He said, “Donbass, a Ukrainian region on Russia’s border never thought of itself as anything other than part of Russia’ and that he was forced to do something about it in 2014.
The remarks were some of Putin’s strongest ever on the history of Ukraine and are a possible indication of just how far the Russian strongman may be willing to go.
Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 and backed pro-Russian separatists who seized a swathe of the industrial Donbass region of eastern Ukraine that same year, and continue to fight Ukrainian government forces there.
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Russian mercenaries deploy to eastern Ukraine