President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine told its military on Thursday to be prepared for a “full scale of invasion” by Moscow armed forces into the separatist eastern region where the increasing fierce fightings have started to undermine fragile peace accord.
Poroshenko for the first time used the term “invasion” by referring Russia’s military presence towards the Donbass region in his parliamentary address a day after shelling attack in the town of Marinka in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) that caused the killing of at least 26 people.
The Ukrainian president raised his country’s concerns when he claimed the separatists had tried to take Marinka on Wednesday with a 12-hour firefight during which heavy artilleries were used by both sides.
"There is a colossal threat of a renewal of large-scale military operations from the side of the Russian-terrorist groups," Poroshenko said.
"The military must be ready as much for a renewal of an offensive by the enemy in the Donbass as they are for a full-scale invasion along the whole length of the border with Russia. We must be truly ready for this."
Earlier on Thursday Ukrainian military officials announced that five Ukrainian servicemen had been killed while the separatists gave their casualties as being 21 dead, consisting of 16 fighters and five civilians.
The UN announced at the end of the last month that at least 6,417 people have been killed, including 626 women and girls, and 15,962 others wounded in more than 13 months of fighting in eastern Ukraine where human rights abuses also raised concerns.
Ukraine reiterated several times that Russia did not abide by the ceasefire measures agreed in Minsk that were put into force as of the middle of February, but both parties have been sporadically violating it since then.
The West also started to voice up against Russia which has long been accused of its military support, including of sending weapons and troops to fight on behalf of the separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk provinces since Russian President Vladimir Putin called the seized territories as “New Russia.”
Ukrainian authorities have shown two Russian soldiers who were captured during a battle with the pro-Russian separatists last month, both Ukraine and the West slammed Russian involvement which was also claimed by the UN and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) monitoring missions in eastern Ukraine.
If the allegations are proven to be right, Russia might face off with the accusations of war crimes and potentially a trial at the Hague International Criminal Court which the Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin had previously announced his country wants to join in the near future.
Russia immediately denied such allegations and accusations by Kiev and the West and said that its soldiers have only been patrolling the porous borders with the eastern Ukraine.
Moscow also said the two captives were former soldiers who had already left the military and they were very likely to be “volunteer soldiers” backing the separatists.
But the capture of the soldiers came just days after the release of a report published by the Russian opposition claiming at least 220 Russian soldiers were killed in the war in eastern Ukraine in the past year.
NATO warned Russia again on Thursday about its responsibility and increasing involvement in the separatist war in the restive east.
"We have precise information that Russia is present in eastern Ukraine and that it has delivered large quantities of heavy, advanced weapons to the separatists," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in Oslo.
"Artillery, anti-aircraft systems, advanced weapons systems. They have supplied more than 1,000 units of this kind to the separatists," he said.
"Russia has a particular responsibility [to end the conflict] because they back the separatists and supply them with heavy arms. They also have forces in eastern Ukraine," Stoltenberg added.
Since Moscow annexed Crimea and gave its military and political support to the separatists inside Ukraine, the relations between Russia and the NATO allies had undergone to the level of Cold War era.
For the current level of the relations, the Kremlin blames the US administration and NATO for the eastward enlargement further into the post-Soviet space, while the Euro-Atlantic alliance has cautiously been watching Moscow’s recent military presence towards eastern Europe in the wake of ongoing crisis in Ukraine.
Meanwhile the European Union also warned Russia on Thursday about a “new spiral of violence” upon the broken ceasefire in Donetsk on Wednesday and menaced Moscow by tightening the sanctions imposed last year end.
The EU’s move just came after when the Ukrainian ambassador to Brussels Kostiantyn Yelisieiev urged the 28-nation bloc to take immediate steps to ramp up sanctions on Moscow over the renewed fighting.
On its part, Moscow immediately responded Ukraine on Thursday by accusing Kiev of provoking new clashes with the aim of putting pressure on the EU that is expected to decide soon on whether to extend economic sanctions on Russia.
"The Ukrainian side has taken steps to aggravate tensions many times in the past in the run-up to some major international events. This used to happen and we are seriously concerned now over the most recent manifestation of such activity," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused Ukraine after the renewal of fierce fightings on Wednesday and told journalists that Kiev was responsible for the ceasefire violations which have stalled negotiations between the belligerent parties.
"Those who are trying to aggravate the military situation on the contact line - whoever they are - willingly or unwillingly pursue the goal of preventing progress on talks in all key political, economic and humanitarian aspects." Lavrov said.