The president of Ukraine accused Vladimir Putin of ignoring attempts to reach him by telephone to defuse the rapidly spiralling military stand off between his country and Russia.
Volodymyr Zelenskiy said via his spokesman on Monday that he had asked the Kremlin for a phone call with the Russian president more than three weeks ago, but had so far been ignored.
“The Kremlin, of course, has the request to talk to Vladimir Putin. We haven’t received a response so far and very much hope that it’s not a refusal of dialogue,” Iuliia Mendel told The Associated Press.
She said the request was lodged on March 26, when four Ukrainian troops were killed in a mortar attack in eastern Ukraine.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday that he hadn’t seen any requests from Mr Zelenskiy “in recent days”.
Russia has moved large numbers of troops towards its borders with Ukraine over the past month, fuelling fears that it may be planning a repeat of its 2014 assault on its eastern neighbour, which saw it annex Crimea and prop up two break-away states in the eastern Donbas region.
On Monday, the foreign ministers of the G7 group of countries – Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the US – issued a statement saying they were “deeply concerned by the large ongoing build-up of Russian military forces on Ukraine’s borders and in illegally-annexed Crimea.”
They added: “These large-scale troop movements, without prior notification, represent threatening and destabilising activities. We call on Russia to cease its provocations and to immediately de-escalate tensions in line with its international obligations.”
Ms Mendel said Ukrainian intelligence believes the Kremlin has so far amassed 42,000 troops in Crimea and another 42,000 in regions of Russia bordering Eastern Ukraine, and that more soldiers continue to arrive.
Mr Zelenskiy is expected to fly to Paris to discuss the crisis with Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, in the near future.
The Kremlin has not given an explanation for the troops’ movements, but has said it reserves the right to intervene in Eastern Ukraine to protect Russian passport holders. Last week it rejected calls to withdraw the troops, saying it is entitled to deploy its forces as it sees fit within its own territory.
On Monday new footage emerged of the Russian military building up at a site about 300 miles south of Moscow.
Sky News found troops and vehicles bearing the registration number of Russia’s Urals military district, hundreds of miles further east, in a large temporary camp in the Voronezh region a few hours drive from the Ukrainian border.