German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called President Vladimir Putin and demanded that Russia unwind its recent military build-up in the area around eastern Ukraine, the German government said in a statement on Thursday.
“One subject of their conversation was, among others, the increased Russian military presence near eastern Ukraine,” the statement said. “The chancellor called for a reduction of these troop reinforcements to de-escalate tensions.”
Both Putin and Merkel voiced concern over the rising tensions in the southeast of Ukraine, the Kremlin said in a statement.
“Vladimir Putin drew attention to the provocative actions of Kiev, which has recently purposefully escalated the situation on the line of contact. The need for the Kiev authorities to strictly implement the previously reached agreements was stressed, first of all, to establish a direct dialogue with Donetsk and Luhansk and to legally formalize the special status of Donbass,” it said.
Merkel also raised the case of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who is currently ill in a Russian penal colony and who is demanding access to independent medical advice.
The call came as clashes between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian forces have increased in recent weeks and a Russian military buildup on the border heightened fears of an escalation in the conflict.
Earlier Thursday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy travelled to the eastern frontline. He has in recent days appealed to his country’s Western allies for support.
The conflict broke out in 2014 after Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula and has claimed more than 13,000 lives.
Kiev and the West have accused Russia of supporting the separatists with weapons and troops. Moscow has repeatedly denied those claims.
Peace talks mediated by France and Germany since 2015 have failed to end the fighting.
While the Kremlin has not denied its recent troop movements on Ukraine’s border, it has insisted that Moscow is posing no threat.