NATO and Kiev have warned Russia against building up troops near eastern Ukraine, prompting Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov to threaten Western countries with force if they send troops to join the fray.

A Ukrainian service member walks along fighting positions on the contact line with Russian-backed rebels near the town of Avdiivka in Donetsk region on February 13, 2021.
A Ukrainian service member walks along fighting positions on the contact line with Russian-backed rebels near the town of Avdiivka in Donetsk region on February 13, 2021. (Reuters)

Russia has warned the US and NATO against sending troops to Ukraine to buttress their ally, after Kiev accused Moscow of building up troops on its border.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Russia would be forced to respond if the US sent troops to Ukraine.

"There is no doubt such a scenario would lead to a further increase in tensions close to Russia's borders. Of course, this would call for additional measures from the Russian side to ensure its security," Peskov told reporters.

Peskov said the situation at the contact line in eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian government forces and Russian-backed separatist forces was quite frightening and that multiple "provocations" were taking place there.

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Conflict escalation

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Thursday accused Russia of massing troops on the border and Washington pledged to stand by Ukraine in the event of Russian "aggression."

Weeks of renewed frontline clashes have raised fears of a an escalation of the long-simmering conflict in eastern Ukraine, where Kiev's forces are battling pro-Russian separatists.

Peskov declined to specify which measures would be adopted, while insisting that Russia was not making moves to threaten Ukraine.

"Russia is not threatening anyone, it has never threatened anyone," Peskov said.

His comments come after the United States warned Russia against "intimidating" Ukraine, with both Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken calling their Ukrainian counterparts to stress support.

The Pentagon said earlier this week that US forces in Europe had raised their alert status following the "recent escalations of Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine."

NATO also voiced concern on Thursday over what it said was a big Russian military buildup near eastern Ukraine after Russia warned that a serious escalation in the conflict in Ukraine's Donbass region could "destroy" Ukraine.

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Increase in fighting 

Ukraine has been battling pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Donetsk and Lugansk regions since 2014, following Moscow's annexation of the Crimean peninsula after an uprising that ousted Ukraine's Kremlin-friendly president Viktor Yanukovych.

Moscow and Kiev this week blamed each other for a rise in violence along the frontline that has undermined a ceasefire brokered last year.

Zelenskiy said Thursday that 20 Ukrainian servicemen had been killed since the start of the year.

Ukraine's military intelligence accused Russia of preparing to "expand its military presence" in the separatist-controlled regions.

Moscow has repeatedly denied sending troops and arms to support the separatists and the Kremlin this week said that Russia is at liberty to move troops on its own territory.

"Russia is not a participant of the conflict," Peskov said on Friday, accusing Ukraine's armed forces of "multiple" provocations in the region.

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Shaky ceasefire

A senior Russian official dismissed reports of Russia planning an attack on Ukraine as "fake."

"Russia is not interested in any conflict with Ukraine, especially a military one," deputy foreign minister, Andrei Rudenko, told state news agency RIA Novosti.

Zelenskiy was elected in 2019 on promises of ending the conflict, but critics say a shaky ceasefire was his only tangible achievement.

The fighting has claimed more than 13,000 lives since 2014, according to the United Nations.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies