Ukraine puts military near Crimea on alert amid Russia tensions
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Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Thursday put the military on highest state of alert along the frontier with Crimea after Russia accused Kiev of making attempted incursions into the annexed region.
Poroshenko said he met Ukraine's top brass as well as foreign ministry officials to discuss the latest flare-up in tensions between the two ex-Soviet foes.
"I ordered a high-alert level on the administrative line with Crimea and contact line in eastern Ukraine," he tweeted.
Russian President Vladimir Putin also held a meeting Thursday with security chiefs where discussed "additional measures for ensuring security for citizens and essential infrastructure in Crimea," the Kremlin said in a statement. Russia also said its navy - whose Black Sea Fleet is based in annexed Crimea - would start war games to practice repelling underwater attacks by terrorists.
Using some of his most aggressive rhetoric against Kiev since the height of the war two years ago, Putin pledged to take counter-measures against Ukraine for allegedly sending saboteurs into Crimea to carry out terrorist acts.
The Russian security service said one of its officers was killed in armed clashes while arresting "terrorists" on the night of August 6-7.
It said another Russian soldier died in a firefight with "sabotage-terrorist" groups sent by the Ukrainian military on August 8.
Ukraine promptly dismissed the Kremlin’s allegation.
"These fantasies are only another pretext for the next military threats toward Ukraine," Poroshenko said in a statement.
40,000 troops in Crimea
Following a closed-door session of the UN Security Council called by Kiev, Ukraine’s UN Ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko said Russia had amassed more than 40,000 troops in Crimea.
"These numbers may reflect some very bad intentions and this is the last thing we would like to happen," he told reporters. "My biggest hope is that this discussion (with the UN) will help the Russian Federation to understand that they cannot really continue with this kind of behaviour."
Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin dismissed concerns about a Russian military build-up. He described the Security Council meeting as "useful" to explain the situation.
"Instead of counting our military they should be bringing an end to the conflict in Donetsk and stop shelling civilians in Donetsk and Luhansk," Churkin told reporters after the meeting.
Separately, the United States said Thursday it was "extremely concerned" about tensions between Ukraine and Russia.
"Our position, as I said yesterday, is well known: Crimea is part of Ukraine and is recognised as such by the international community," said State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau. "We call for the avoidance of any actions that would escalate the situation."
Russia vs Ukraine
Russia's annexation of Crimea came just weeks after the ouster of Ukraine's Moscow-backed president in a pro-European Union revolt that claimed more than 100 lives.
The seizure provoked stiff economic sanctions imposed against Russia by Kiev's Western allies and was followed by a pro-Moscow insurgency in eastern Ukraine that has left more than 9,500 people dead since April 2014.
Russia denies Western charges it is backing the conflict in retaliation for Ukraine's shift out of its orbit.
Whatever the truth of this latest potentially dangerous dispute, the allegations have already scuppered planned talks about eastern Ukraine slated for the sidelines of a G20 summit in China next month. Putin said such talks would now be "pointless."
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)