Russia could break diplomatic ties with Ukraine over reported security incidents in Crimea, prime minister Dmitry Medvedev has warned.
State news agencies quoted Mr Medvedev as saying that he would not like the ties to be severed but “if there is no other way to change the situation, the president could take this step.”
Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014 following a hastily called and controversial referendum, and a conflict between Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces flared up in eastern Ukraine weeks later.
Despite that and the fact the conflict in the east has killed more than 9,500 people, Kiev and Moscow have not yet broken diplomatic ties.
Ukrainian foreign minister Pavlo Klimkin earlier this week also spoke of that possibility but said Kiev would not want that because it would mean abandoning 4 million Ukrainians who live and work in Russia.
Medvedev’s announcement comes after Ukraine put its troops on combat alert along the country’s de-facto borders with Crimea, amid an escalating war of words with Russia over Crimea.
German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier yesterday appealed to Russia and Ukraine to avoid a further escalation in tensions after Moscow accused Kiev of sending “saboteurs” to conduct attacks in annexed Crimea.
He said Germany is in contact with both countries and he plans to speak to Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov during a previously planned visit to Russia on Monday.
Meanwhile, the Russian military has announced the delivery of new air defence missiles to Crimea in a move scheduled before the latest tensions with Ukraine. The S-400 Triumph missile systems were earmarked for troops in Crimea last month, Russian media said at the time.
In a statement issued yesterday the military said once the systems were set up, they would be used in exercises.
Russia said this week it had foiled a Ukraine sabotage mission.
It accused Kiev of trying to send saboteurs into Crimea and reported the deaths of a soldier and a secret police officer in an operation to foil the alleged plot. Denying the accusations, Ukraine placed its troops on alert against Crimea, and along its front line with Russian-backed rebels holding parts of Donetsk and Luhansk in the east.
A statement by Russia’s Southern Military District, which incorporates Crimea, said the missiles had been received by an air defence regiment in Crimea.
According to the statement, quoted by Russian news agencies, the missiles were successfully tested on the Kapustin Yar test range in southern Russia.
Russia’s Interfax news agency says the missiles are designed to hit airborne targets at a range of up to 249 miles and ballistic missiles at a range of up to 40 miles, flying at speeds of up to 3 miles per second.
The missiles are being installed in Crimea to protect Russia’s Hmeimim air base in Syria among other things, it added. Last November, Russia deployed S-400s there after Turkey downed a Russian Su-24 bomber.
Ukraine’s envoy to the UN asked Russia on to prove its allegations, and said some 40,000 Russian troops were massed on the Crimea-Ukraine border.
His Russian counterpart told the UN Security Council of Moscow’s “concern and outrage” at the alleged incursions.
Russian state TV broadcast an apparent confession by a man named as Yevhen Panov, saying he was part of a Ukrainian defence force sent into Crimea “to carry out acts of sabotage”.