MOSCOW: Petro Poroshenko, the president of Ukraine, ordered his country's armed forces onto combat alert yesterday (Thursday) amid a dramatic escalation of military tensions along the frontier with Russia and Crimea.
The order came a day after Russia's president Vladimir Putin accused Ukraine of launching cross-border raids into the Russian-controlled peninsula, killing two servicemen.
"I ordered a high-level alert of all units in the region of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and along the entire contact line in Donbas," Mr Poroshenko said, after meeting his national security council yesterday afternoon.
Earlier, Mr Putin chaired a meeting with Russian security chiefs to discuss "additional measures for ensuring security for citizens and essential infrastructure in Crimea", the Kremlin said in a statement. The United Nations Security Council was due to meet to discuss the crisis last night at the request of Ukraine, a non-permanent member.
Russia annexed Crimea before invading eastern Ukraine in support of a separatist insurgency in 2014, sparking a war that has killed more than 9,500 people. Crimea itself has previously been unaffected by the violence in eastern Ukraine. Moscow and Kiev have accused one another of dangerous troop build-ups in recent weeks, raising fears of a return to the all-out warfare that tore Ukraine apart in 2014.
Russia's Federal Security Service said one of its officers and one soldier were killed in a series of firefights on Crimea's frontier with Ukraine between Saturday night and Monday morning.
Three Ukrainians captured during the skirmishes confessed to planning a series of explosions in the region's resorts in a bid to sow panic and destroy the Crimean tourism industry, security sources told Russian media yesterday.
The Ukrainian government dismissed the allegations as "false information" and accused Mr Putin of seeking a pretext for war.
Unusual military activity, including military jets flying over Crimea and the Ukrainian cities of Kharkiv and Odessa, was reported on social media in both countries yesterday evening
Meanwhile, both government and Russian-backed separatists have reported a surge in violence in Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions, with nightly battles erupting along the line of contact despite a nominal ceasefire.
Eduard Basurin, a spokesman for the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, accused Ukraine of escalating shelling but said that fighting so far remains confined to several well-established flash points. "The main areas are around Mariupol, Donetsk, and Horlivka. We have not seen fighting erupt in previously quiet areas," he said.
Mr Putin said the weekend attacks made French and German brokered talks with Mr Poroshenko planned for the G20 summit in China next month pointless. Cancellation of the meeting would raise serious concerns about the viability of a peace road-map that Mr Putin and Mr Poroshenko agreed in Minsk in February 2015.
Ukrainian military officials said Russia was massing equipment, including armed assault units, in Crimea and on Ukraine's eastern border. Earlier yester-day Ukraine's army announced scheduled exercises in the south of Ukraine.