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Intensification of the escalation in Donbas region

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Fighting has intensified in recent weeks in Ukraine’s Donbas region, of which Donetsk and Lugansk are a part. Meanwhile, Russia has amassed tens of thousands of troops as well as tanks and artillery near the shared border in the region. Moscow has also mobilised troops in the Black Sea region of Crimea.

Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin chief spokesperson, has not disputed a military build-up is taking place, but he told reporters in Moscow that Russia “moves its armed forces around its territory at its discretion.”  But the buildup has alarmed Ukraine’s allies, prompting calls from NATO for Russian President Vladimir Putin to order a pullback. Moscow this week blamed NATO and the US for turning Ukraine into a “powder keg” with increasing arms supplies to the country.

The foreign ministers of the G7 group of economies have told Russia to “de-escalate” tensions on its border with Ukraine. Russia called on France and Germany to stop the “propaganda” over Russian military exercises. “Once again, we call on our partners, mainly Germany and France as our colleagues on the Normandy Four format, to stop partaking in the propaganda campaign around Russian events on the Russian territory that threaten no-one, and to focus instead on urging Kiev to de-escalate tensions in Donbass and implement the Minsk Agreements,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Thursday.

Meanwhile, the United States on Thursday imposed a broad array of sanctions on Russia, including curbs to its sovereign debt market, to punish it for interfering in last year’s U.S. election, cyber-hacking, bullying Ukraine and other alleged “malign” actions. The hostile measures come just days after the US president extended an invitation to President Vladimir Putin to meet “in the coming weeks” to discuss ways to improve relations.

Russia’s response to “Washington’s aggressive behaviour” would “inevitably” receive a “decisive rebuke,” and lamented that the new US restrictions go against the interests of the peoples of both countries, Zakharova said, speaking at a press briefing in Moscow on Thursday.

With reporting by Al Jazeera, TASS, Sputnik News