Moscow On The March: US Warns Russia to Back Off Ukraine as Moscow Announces Military Exercises

moscowThe crisis in Ukraine deepened further overnight following the departure of the US vice-president, Joe Biden, from Kiev after a two-day visit.

In a late-night phone call, the US secretary of state, John Kerry, told the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, of his “deep concern over the lack of positive Russian steps to de-escalate” the crisis in eastern Ukraine, a state department official said.

Kerry also called on Russia to “tone down escalatory rhetoric”.

But Russia says Kiev’s new leaders – whom it regards as illegitimate – are to blame for the collapse of the peace accord brokered in Geneva, which many hoped would avert Ukraine’s slide into civil war.

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Moscow maintains the accord was ruptured by ultranationalists – who were involved in months of protests that led to the ousting in February of Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin president, Viktor Yanukovych – who killed rebels in an attack on Sunday near the eastern town of Slavyansk.

On Wednesday morning, Russia’s defence ministry announced on state news wire Interfax that the navy had launched snap military exercises involving its fleet in the Caspian Sea.

The drill will last seven days and involve around 10 naval vessels and 400 sailors. The Caspian Sea is bordered by Iran, Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan – a region that is crisscrossed by oil and natural gas pipelines.

Ukraine relaunched military operations against pro-Kremlin separatists late on Tuesday, hours after Biden ended his visit to Kiev in which he warned Russia over its actions in the former Soviet republic.

Ukraine’s acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, said he was ordering the military to restart operations against the rebels after the discovery of two “brutally tortured” bodies in Slavyansk.

One of them, he said, was that of a recently kidnapped local councillor from a nearby town who belonged to his party.

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