Kiev: Ukraine's president vowed to increase troop numbers to fend off attacks by Russia-backed separatist rebels and warned his countrymen that there is still the threat of a "large-scale invasion," in an impassioned speech to mark Independence Day today.
Speaking during a military parade, President Petro Poroshenko said Ukraine must not be complacent even though hostilities have largely died down. In a show of force, thousands of Ukrainian servicemen marched in downtown Kiev to commemorate the country's independence from the Soviet Union on Aug 24, 1991.
"We stand for peace, but we are not pacifists. We must get through the 25th year of independence as if on brittle ice. We must understand that the smallest misstep could be fatal. The war for independence is still ongoing," Poroshenko said.
Poroshenko didn't say how many more troops he would send to eastern Ukraine. He claimed that Russia had massed about 50,000 troops on the border with Ukraine, still had 9,000 soldiers in eastern Ukraine and had supplied the rebels with about 500 tanks and 400 pieces of artillery.
Poroshenko warned that Russia is wary of an outright invasion and is instead developing another strategy: sow discord across all of Ukraine and thus spoil its relations with its Western allies.
Poroshenko compared the rebel-held territories in the east and their viability to the evil kingdom of Mordor from JRR Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" novels.
Russia's foreign minister said Poroshenko's statements about Russian troops were "unsubstantiated and unscrupulous."
"It is difficult to escape the thought that their goal was to break the genetic code that guarantees the unity of our peoples. I don't think he will succeed," Sergey Lavrov said.
The Ukrainian troops taking part in the Independence Day commemorations carried rifles, but, unlike last year, the parade didn't feature any of the more powerful weaponry.
This could have been seen as provocative because of the conflict in the east, which has claimed more than 6,800 lives since it began in April 2014 and saw a major uptick in violence last week with nine civilians and soldiers killed in just one day.
Ukraine's military said today that the rebels violated a cease-fire 82 times overnight in the eastern part of the country, in some cases with large-caliber weapons that should have been withdrawn in line with a truce signed in February.