Viktor Vodolatsky, a high-ranking Russian lawmaker, urged civilians in Ukraine’s Russian-occupied Donbas region to join up with the Russian military — a shift that would bind the area, controlled by Kremlin-backed rebels since 2014, even closer to Moscow.
“If Russian citizens residing in the (territories) want to join the Russian Armed Forces, the Rostov regional military commissariat will register and draft them,” Vodolatsky told Tass, the state news agency.
Russia has granted passports to 500,000 Ukrainians in the occupied regions, a large pool of potential recruits for Putin’s forces.
On the other side of the contested border, thousands of Ukrainians have been training with the country’s newly expanded Territorial Defense Force – but with arms and ammunition in short supply, many are drilling with fake wooden weapons.
“In the event of a brutal invasion, everything that needs to be done will be done,” Valeriy Averyanov, a 46-year-old businessman, told the Los Angeles Times.
Averyanov, who heads a militia unit in the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, vowed to fight for his country even if Russia invades it — training his fighters to be able to morph into “partisan groups that could operate behind enemy lines,” he said.
Regular Ukrainian army troops — decked out in furry white winter camouflage suits with black spots — trained with freshly arrived British anti-tank weapons Friday as Moscow continued to demand a NATO guarantee that Ukraine would be barred from joining the US-Western Europe alliance.
Some Putin allies talked tough Saturday, just hours after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov insisted that Russia has no wish to spark an armed conflict.
“It will take 48 hours,” Russian media tycoon Konstantin Malofeev, a Kremlin insider, boasted about the looming invasion, The Sun reported.
“Open military conflict between Russia and Ukraine cannot be a war, or, at least, a long-term war, because the difference in military potential is so big that there can be only an operation for forcing the peace,” Malofeev said.
Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced plans to visit Ukraine next week and hold crisis talks by phone with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, his office said Friday.
“The prime minister is determined to accelerate diplomatic efforts and ramp up deterrence to avoid bloodshed in Europe,” a rep for Johnson told The Guardian.
President Biden on Friday announced plans to send US troops — but “not too many” — to Eastern Europe to defend against a potential Russian invasion.