Putin says conflict in eastern Ukraine 'looks like GENOCIDE'

Putin says conflict in eastern Ukraine ‘looks like GENOCIDE’ and condemns ‘Russophobia’ as tensions mount over military build-up in the region

  • Putin denounced what he called ‘Russophobia’ against Russians living overseas, saying war in eastern Ukraine ‘looks like genocide’ 
  • Remarks will ring alarm bells amid fears he could invade the neighbouring nation
  • State propaganda has used ‘threats’ against Russians living overseas as justification for invasion in the past, including during annexation of Crimea
  • Putin made remark just a day after call with Joe Biden warning him not to attack 

Vladimir Putin has said fighting between Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces along the border ‘looks like genocide’, ramping up tensions amid fears he will invade.

Putin, answering a question about discrimination against overseas Russians, denounced what he called ‘Russophobia’ saying it is a ‘first step towards genocide’.

He then pointed to the war simmering in Ukraine’s Donbass region, on Russia’s border, saying: ‘You and I know what is happening… It certainly looks like genocide.’

Though Putin has used similar words before, they will cause fresh alarm amid a huge Russian troop build-up on Ukraine’s border. 

Russian state propaganda has, in the past, used ‘threats’ to Russians living overseas as pretext for invasion – including during the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Vladimir Putin has warned that the war in eastern Ukraine ‘looks like genocide’ against ethnic Russians living there, ramping up fears of an invasion (pictured, a Russian separatist)

Ukraine has been fighting a years-long war against Russian separatists in the Donbass region, who are armed and supported by Moscow (pictured, Ukrainian troops in the region)

Washington has been warning for weeks that Russia appears to be gearing up to invade Ukraine with a force of up to 175,000 men 

Though Ukraine’s Donbass region is majority-Ukrainian, it contains significant Russian minorities with Russian being the dominant language spoken in many southern and eastern districts.

Donetsk and Luhansk, the two regions which collectively make up the Donbass, are 38 per cent and 39 per ethnically Russian, respectively. 

Many observers fear that Putin, who has massed up to 94,000 troops, tanks and artillery pieces on Ukraine’s border in recent weeks, could invade on the pretext of protecting those people from the ‘threat’ of genocide. 

The United States and its allies have for weeks accused Russia of planning an invasion of Ukraine and massing troops along Kiev’s borders, saying a force of up to 175,000 will be ready to march on Ukraine within weeks.

Biden earlier this week spoke with Putin via video link and warned Russia of crippling sanctions and US boots on the ground if he took military action against Ukraine.

The US President then had a call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, who said he gave ‘strong’ backing and vowed support in the event of a Russian attack.

Zelensky issued a statement late Thursday, thanking Biden for his support following a phone call that he said lasted an hour and a half. 

The White House said Biden ‘reaffirmed the United States’ unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.’

Biden also placed a separate call to the leaders of NATO members Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia – eastern European nations which fear the ramifications of a Russian attack.

They ‘discussed Russia’s destabilizing military buildup along Ukraine’s border and the need for a united, ready, and resolute NATO stance for the collective defense of allies,’ the White House said.

Biden had already spent two hours talking to President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, warning him that if Russian troops now massed next to Ukraine launch a major attack, Moscow would then face US economic sanctions ‘like none he’s ever seen.’

But the White House stressed that Biden was also pushing for reinvigorated diplomacy, including the stalled peace talks between Ukraine and Russia.

‘Within the next couple days, we’re obviously going to continue talking with our European partners, we’re going to continue talking with our Russian partners and finding a way forward,’ a senior administration official told reporters. 

Western and Ukrainian officials say they fear Russia – which already seized Ukraine’s entire Crimea region in 2014 and also backed a separatist rebellion in the east – is preparing an even larger scale invasion.

Russia says it has deployed troops, estimated to number about 100,000, on the border only out of fear that the former Soviet republic is becoming an outpost of the NATO alliance.

Ukraine is nowhere near to entering NATO, although Washington insists that Russia should not have a veto on Kiev’s ambitions.

Zelensky (pictured on the frontlines this week) has been pushing for Ukraine to be admitted to NATO, something that Putin has declared a Russian ‘red line’

A camp containing five battalions of Russian troops is pictured near Yelna, 150 miles from Ukraine’s border, within the last month as US intelligence warns Putin now has 50 battalions camped out on Europe’s doorstep 

Another view of the newly-built Russian military camp near Yelna, as US intelligence claims that Putin will be ready to invade Ukraine with an army of 175,000 men within weeks

Russian tanks, artillery pieces and support vehicles are seen at a newly-built camp at Novoozerne, in Crimea, which is located around 80 miles from the Ukrainian border

Beyond the battlefields of eastern Ukraine, however, the dispute has turned into a much broader struggle over the path for eastern Europe, where for decades the Soviet Union had total dominance but most countries now are part of Western institutions.

At the same time, neither the United States nor any European powers want open war with Russia over Ukraine, and Biden appears to be seeking a return to negotiations.

Zelensky said that he and Biden ‘discussed possible formats for resolving the conflict’ in eastern Ukraine, where the Russian-backed separatists have a self-declared state.

The senior US official said ‘we are of course prepared to talk to the Russians about this whole set of issues.’

But the official bristled at media reports that Biden had pressured Zelensky into accepting concessions to Russia.

‘There very clearly were not’ concessions being discussed, the official said, adding that Biden ‘stood by our principles.’

Biden is closely coordinating with major European powers, reaching out to the leaders of Britain, France, Germany and Italy both before and after his session with Putin on Tuesday. 

US options for assisting Ukraine are limited, as the country is not in NATO and direct intervention would mean almost certain clashes with Russia.

Still, the United States helps train Ukrainian forces and has committed more than $2.5 billion to bolster a military that crumpled in the face of the Russian assault back in 2014.

Biden said that deliveries of that kind of ‘defensive capability’ would be boosted if the conflict escalates.

The US president says the possibility of sending American troops into Ukraine’s fight is ‘not on the table.’ But when it comes to the nine eastern flank NATO countries, Biden is promising the opposite.

‘We would probably be required to reinforce our presence in NATO countries to reassure particularly those in the eastern front,’ he said this week.

Biden and European leaders are also talking up their willingness to impose harsh economic penalties on Moscow over any further Russian attack.

Among them, the new German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, warned of ‘consequences’ for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, a controversial Russian project to deliver natural gas to Germany.

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