SEVASTOPOL, Crimea, Aug. 19 (UPI) — Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Crimea on Friday comes as Ukraine warns it is preparing for an escalation in hostilities between the two countries.
Crimea was annexed from Ukraine by Russia in 2014, and Putin’s visit is his first there since March. At Sevastopol’s airport Friday, he stressed Moscow was not planning to reduce ties with Kiev, despite Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko‘s rejection last week of Putin’s claim that two Russian soldiers were killed in separate incidents in Crimea earlier in August.
Speaking earlier with Russia’s Security Council, Putin also referred to a large buildup of Ukrainian military supplies along the border with Russia and Ukraine’s reluctance to have full diplomatic ties with Russia, noting: “I hope these will not be a final choice, will not be a final choice of our partners and common sense will prevail. We are not planning to roll back our ties despite the unwillingness of the current authorities in Kiev to have full-fledged diplomatic relations at the level of ambassadors. We will still create possibilities for developing contacts and maintaining them.”
Alexander Hug of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said in Kiev on Friday that the amount of heavy weapons on eastern Ukraine’s front line has nearly doubled in a week. Poroshenko has put his military on high alert and said Thursday: “We don’t rule out a full-scale Russian invasion.”
The preparations for possible combat are complicating Ukraine’s efforts to change domestic policies to enable a restart of a $17.5 billion bailout by Western countries, and comes a week before Ukraine’s anniversary of its independence from the Soviet Union.
Putin’s presence in Crimea can be seen as an escalation of the worst confrontation between the two countries since a 2015 truce slowed violence at the border, Bloomberg News said Friday.