Russia has started a great war and deaths will be measured in the thousands, Ukraine's defence minister warns

Warning follows claims President Putin said that Russia could 'take Kiev in two weeks'

Russia is responsible for bringing a “great war” on Europe and will be responsible for “tens of thousands” of deaths if the crisis escalates, the Ukrainian Defence Minister has said.

“A great war has arrived at our doorstep, the likes of which Europe has not seen since World War Two,” Valeriy Heletey wrote on Facebook on Monday. “Unfortunately, the losses in such a war will be measured not in the hundreds, but thousands and tens of thousands,” he added.

Russia has consistently denied arming pro-Moscow insurgents, claiming that there has been - and will be - no military intervention.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told students yesterday that Russia backed a “peaceful settlement of this severe crisis”, having already called for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire.

On Tuesday morning, however, its Security Council announced that it would update its “military doctrine by the end of 2014 to reflect Nato expansion”.

It also warned that “military aggression against [Russian-controlled] Crimea will be considered aggression against Russia”.

 

The developments come after it emerged that Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly told the outgoing president of the European Commission he could "take Kiev in two weeks”.

According to Italy’s La Republica newspaper, Jose Manuel Barroso said that Mr Putin made the comment after the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko had left the table at the Nato summit over the weekend during talks on the crisis.

Mr Poroshenko has accused Russia of “direct and undisguised aggression” in the east of Ukraine.

Mr Barroso reportedly said Mr Putin first made the remarks in a telephone conversation held on 29 August, when the Russian president was accused of being responsible for the military action of the separatists in Ukraine.

Mr Putin is reported to have interrupted, saying: “The issue is not this. If I want, I can take Kiev in two weeks”.

However, this morning a Russian official complained that the statement was "quoted out of context and carried a completely different meaning".

Tensions between Russia and the West increased yesterday after it was revealed that Nato will create a 4,000-strong spearhead force in the region with military equipment stockpiled at bases in Eastern Europe.

Its forces will be available within 48 hours should Russia militarily intervene in Ukraine.

On Tuesday morning, Mikhail Popov, deputy secretary of the National Security Council, said Russia would ‘alter its military doctrine towards Nato' in response to deteriorating relations with Europe and the US, Mr Popov told Russia's RIA news agency Nato was “aggravating tensions with Russia”.

He said that the “military infrastructure of Nato member states“ was ”getting closer to [Russian] borders, including via enlargement.”

There were no details on how the doctrine might change.

Clashes erupted on Sunday night between separatists and Ukrainian military, in which rebels pushed back government forces from an airport near Luhansk, the second-largest rebel-controlled city.

The fighting occurred a day before negotiations got underway in Minsk, Belarus, with pro-Russian fighters easing demands for full independence, instead calling for autonomy in a Ukrainian sovereign state.

Previous crisis talks have failed to reach an agreement, with this round of discussion including Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, Russia’s Ambassador to Ukraine, representation from the separatists, and members of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

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According to a statement from the rebels, distributed by Russia’s state-run RIA Novosti news agency, they are willing to find a resolution to “the preservation of the united economic, cultural and political space of Ukraine”, as long as they can retain local powers including running their own law enforcement.

The talks, which lasted for a number of hours yesterday, have been adjourned until Friday.

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