Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky recently traveled to the region of Donbass following skirmishes between his country’s soldiers and Russia-backed separatists after a 23-year-old Ukrainian soldier was killed by gunfire in the region.
Since the beginning of the year, 25 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed by Donbass rebels, according to statements given by the Ukraine Military. The 43-year-old President staged a photo op visiting trenches, wearing a bulletproof vest and helmet, while shaking hands with soldiers and handing out awards.
Zelensky’s visit comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly accused Ukraine of provoking conflict in the area during a recent phone call with German leader Angela Merkel.
The clashes between the two sides are the most intense since Zelensky took office back in 2019. The President’s visit followed rising evidence of Moscow amassing massive military hardware on their side of the Russia-Ukraine border in the region.
Zelensky’s office described his visit to Donbas, which comprises the territories of Luhansk and Donetsk, as a “working trip” during which he will be visiting places where Ukraine claims Russia has “systematically violated” the ceasefire.
Separatist groups in the region announced cession from the Ukrainian government back in May 2014, creating the so-called “Luhansk People’s Republic” and the “Donetsk People’s Republic” in the process. However, neither republic has been acknowledged by the international community.
The ceasefire has been in place since July 27, 2020. Ukrainian and European leaders wanted to extend the ceasefire beyond its end date of April 1. However, Russia declined the extension. Ukrainian media outlet Unian claimed Moscow has deployed snipers to the border and set up a military base filled with “heavy weaponry.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that a transfer of Russian forces is happening on Russian soil and is not the business of other countries. He claimed that the troops are not taking part in any armed conflict inside Ukraine, and that they do not pose a threat to anyone. Peskov described the troop movements as “necessary and expedient,” adding they have also begun “combat readiness” inspections.
According to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, around 4,408 military exercises will be conducted in the country this month at over 100 training grounds.
Most of the training will happen in the Siberian Far East region, “In accordance with the plan for the training of the armed forces, control checks have begun in the military administration bodies, formations, and military units… The troops went to the training grounds for tactical, tactical-special, and bilateral exercises,” he said in a meeting at the Defense Ministry.
Meanwhile, the United States is planning to send in two warships to the Black Sea. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby claimed that this is normal activity.
However, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko expressed concerns about the potential deployment of American warships in the region saying that the Black Sea belongs to surrounding states and that governments who do not border the waters should not engage in any activity in the area.