Ukraine leader signs law to call up reservists for military service amid tensions with Russia

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy visits positions near the front line with Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine's Donbass region on April 8, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

KIEV (REUTERS, AFP) - Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky has signed a law allowing reservists to be called up for military service without announcing mobilisation, his office said on Wednesday (April 21).

Approved by parliament late in March, the measure makes it possible to significantly boost the armed forces, amid escalation of tension with Russia in eastern Ukraine.

"This will make it possible to quickly equip the military units of all defence forces with reservists, thereby significantly increasing their combat effectiveness during military aggression," the office said.

On Tuesday, President Zelensky challenged his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to meet him in the Donbass region for talks to end the conflict there and ease tension between the neighbours.

Kiev and Moscow have traded blame over increasing clashes in the Donbass, where Ukrainian troops have battled Russian-backed forces in a conflict since 2014.

Ukraine, its Western allies and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) have accused Russia of a provocative build-up of troops on Ukraine's eastern border and in Crimea. In turn, Russia has accused the United States and Nato of provocative activity in the Black Sea region.

In recent weeks, fighting has intensified between Ukraine's army and pro-Russian separatists controlling two regions in the country's east, raising concerns of a major escalation in the long-running conflict.

In an address to the nation, Mr Zelensky said that Ukrainian and Russian negotiators had recently discussed plans for officials to travel to the frontlines of the trench conflict to assess the fighting and ceasefire violations.

"I am ready to go even further and invite you to meet in any part of the Ukrainian Donbass where war is ongoing," Mr Zelensky said in the address.

The Ukrainian president, who was elected in 2019 on promises to end the long-simmering conflict, also accused Russia of participating in peace negotiations while massing troops on Ukraine's border.

"A considerable number of Russian troops are concentrated near our border. Officially, Russia calls this military exercises. Unofficially, the whole world calls such things blackmail," the Ukrainian president said.

The European Union on Monday estimated the number of Russian troops along the Ukrainian border at more than 100,000 during talks with Ukraine's foreign minister.

"The Russian president once said that if a fight is inevitable, you need to hit first. But every leader needs to understand that a fight must not be inevitable when it...concerns a real war and millions of human lives," Mr Zelensky said.

Kiev has been battling pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Donetsk and Lugansk regions since 2014, following Moscow's annexation of the Crimean peninsula.

The conflict, which has claimed more than 13,000 lives, has seen 30 Ukrainian soldiers killed since the start of the year, compared to 50 in all of 2020.

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