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Russia-Ukraine Crisis Escalates With Reports Of Broken Ceasefire

Ukraine and Russia-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine accused each other on Thursday of violating a ceasefire as tensions between the two neighboring countries escalated amid warnings from the West that Russia could invade Ukraine any day now.

Each side is accusing the other of provocation, just two days after Russia said on Tuesday that some troops are returning to bases, which the market interpreted as a possible sign of de-escalation of the tension.

The build-up of the Russian military along the border with Ukraine has rattled energy markets, with oil prices spiking amid fears that a conflict could disrupt oil and gas supplies or lead to severe sanctions against Russia's industry, including the energy sector.

After the Russian claim that troops were returning from drills to their permanent bases, Ukraine said that "when we see the withdrawal, then we'll believe the de-escalation."

The U.S. also expressed doubts about Russia's claim that it was pulling troops away from the border.

"We continue to see critical units moving toward the border, not away from the border," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on MSNBC on Wednesday. "There's what Russia says and then there's what Russia does. We haven't seen any pullback of its forces," Blinken added.

State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said on Wednesday, "You heard from the NATO secretary general this morning, Jens Stoltenberg, that we have not seen de-escalation, and in fact, we've seen more troops head to the border."

On Thursday, the Russia-backed rebels said that Ukrainian forces had violated the ceasefire four times over the past 24 hours. At the same time, Ukraine says that the rebels fired shells, some of which hit a kindergarten, causing shell-shocks in two people.

Yan Leshchenko, head of the pro-Russia Lugansk People's Republic's (LPR) Militia, told Russian news agency TASS, "The adversary, following direct orders of Kiev's military-political leadership, is undertaking attempts to aggravate the conflict."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, for his part, tweeted that he had spoken about "today's provocative shelling, in particular in Stanytsia Luhanska," with Charles Michel, President of the European Council.

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Even after reports of rising Russia-Ukraine tensions, oil prices were down by 1% early on Thursday, as the market also awaits news of the Iranian nuclear talks, which are now in their final decisive stage.

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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