A Ukrainian serviceman holds a position at the front line with Russia-backed separatists not far Avdiivka, Donetsk region on April 5, 2021. (STR / AFP)
MOSCOW - An escalating conflict between Ukrainian government forces and insurgents in the country's east has drawn worldwide attention, largely due to a Washington-Moscow grapple behind the scenes to gain a strategic edge.
Since the beginning of this year, a new round of confrontation in eastern Ukraine's Lugansk and Donetsk regions, together known as Donbas, has claimed the lives of 20 Ukrainian servicemen and injured 57 others, according to data released by Kiev.
The ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine, which began in April 2014, has claimed some 14,000 lives and left as many as 40,000 wounded.
While the Ukrainian authorities and the pro-Russia Donbas insurgents have traded barbs, Moscow believes that the situation has worsened due to Kiev's provocations, which have led to multiple casualties among civilians.
Since the beginning of this year, a new round of confrontation in eastern Ukraine's Lugansk and Donetsk regions, together known as Donbas, has claimed the lives of 20 Ukrainian servicemen and injured 57 others, according to data released by Kiev
Experts said that the United States nudged Kiev into these provocations against Moscow, which has shown no intention of backing off.
Moscow-Washington relations sharply dipped to a record low after a US intelligence report accused Russia of meddling in the 2020 US presidential election with the aim of hampering Joe Biden's campaign, which the Kremlin has repeatedly denied.
Biden told an interview last month that Putin "will pay a price" for alleged efforts to undermine the election.
Biden held his first phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky Friday, when Biden "affirmed the United States' unwavering support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia's ongoing aggression in the Donbas and Crimea."
This AFP graphic dated April 5, 2021 shows the map of Ukraine with territory occupied by pro-Russian separatists in the east and Russian-annexed Crimea.
On Monday, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price expressed concern over recent "escalating Russian aggression" in eastern Ukraine and demanded that Russia explain its troop movements near Ukraine's borders.
Zelensky has also discussed with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau growing hostilities in eastern Ukraine and bilateral military cooperation, the president's press service said on Tuesday.
During their telephone talks, Zelensky briefed Trudeau on the growing number of ceasefire violations along the contact line in Donbas, which lead to the killing of 10 Ukrainian soldiers in less than two weeks.
"Actually, everything that is currently happening in Ukraine wouldn't have taken place without the United States. Washington consistently controls, supports and fans aggressive sentiment in Ukraine," said Russian political scientist Dmitry Yuriev.
Another political analyst Pavel Salin also saw "clearly visible" US influence on the Ukrainian authorities over the past months.
"A group of forces are interested in an escalation of conflict and they invest resources in this, but none wants a full-scale war. When everyone invested in escalations in 1914, the situation spiraled out of control," Salin warned.
Russia appears to be cool-headed so far in dealing with flare-ups in tensions in Donbas, while at the same time it has voiced determination to protect its border area with Ukraine.
In response to grumbles from the United States, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that the US should not be concerned with Russia's actions, but with Kiev's failure to comply with its commitments under the Minsk agreements on the Donbas settlement
In response to grumbles from the United States, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that the US should not be concerned with Russia's actions, but with Kiev's failure to comply with its commitments under the Minsk agreements on the Donbas settlement.
On Tuesday, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called Zelensky to "express serious concern about Russia's military activities in and around Ukraine and ongoing ceasefire violations."
"#NATO firmly supports #Ukraine's sovereignty & territorial integrity. We remain committed to our close partnership," Stoltenberg tweeted.
"@NATO is the only way to end the war in #Donbas. Ukraine's MAP (Membership Action Plan) will be a real signal for #Russia," Zelensky wrote on Twitter.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned that joining the NATO would not help Ukraine solve its domestic problems but only complicate the situation further.
"We do not want an escalation of the situation, but we are prepared for any turn of events," he told reporters on Tuesday in response to a question on whether the United States would boost military support for Ukraine.
Russia's armed forces launched massive combat readiness checks on Tuesday, involving 4,048 exercises of various scales on the territory of all military districts and the Northern Fleet.
HONG KONG NEWS