KIEV: Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said in an interview broadcast on Wednesday that his crisis-torn country was fighting a “real war” with Russia that could escalate at any time.
The pro-Western leader said the weekend capture of two purported Russian special service soldiers proved that the separatist uprising in the industrial east of Ukraine was a guise for a Moscow-orchestrated campaigned aimed at breaking up Ukraine.
“Can I be absolutely clear with you this is not a fight with Russian-backed separatists, this is a real war with Russia,” the 49-year-old Ukrainian leader told the BBC.
“The fact that we captured . . . Russian regular special forces soldiers [is]strong evidence of that,” he added.
Ukraine’s military on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila) showed off two Russians taken prisoner during a firefight in Lugansk—a blue collar region that together with neighboring Donetsk revolted against Kiev’s shift toward the West 13 months.
The men testified during a taped interrogation that they were members of a 200-strong Russian reconnaissance unit that entered the warzone nearly two months ago.
The United Nations believes that the entire conflict has claimed at least 6,250 lives and driven more than a million people from their homes.
A second truce agreement Poroshenko struck with Russian President Vladimir Putin with the help of the leaders of Germany and France in February has thus far failed to take complete hold.
Ukraine lost at least eight servicemen since Monday in clashes across both renegade provinces. Kiev’s armed forces blame the violence on a new infusion of Russian troops.
“I believe they are preparing an offensive and I think we should be ready and not give them any chance for a provocation. That will totally be their responsibility,” the Ukrainian president said.
Poroshenko stressed that he did not necessarily “trust” Putin but had no choice but to seek a diplomatic solution to the crisis with the Russian leader because the war could not be resolved with guns and tanks.
“I don’t have any option,” said Poroshenko, who conceded that Ukraine was not strong enough to push back Russian troops. “I doubt the release of my territory could happen by military means,” he added.
There was no immediate response to Poroshenko’s comments from either the Kremlin or the Russian foreign ministry.
Moscow acknowledges the presence of Russian “volunteers” and off-duty servicemen in Ukraine while rejecting charges that they were there under orders from Putin’s generals.