All-out war between Russia and Ukraine appeared closer than ever yesterday after a tense naval confrontation.
It came as Ukrainian diplomats warned that Moscow is carrying out “the largest troop movement since the Second World War”.
The stand-off was in the Azov Sea, between the two nations.
Five Russian craft were said to have goaded Ukrainian gunboats with “provocative manoeuvres”.
The three Ukrainian vessels came close to opening fire on the spy vessels. Andrii Klymenko, a Ukrainian commentator, said: “Our sailors had to warn they were ready to use weapons.”
The West fears Russian President Putin wants a minor flare-up to spark war as his troops mass on Ukraine’s eastern borders.
As many as 115,000 will be ready to move over the border as early as next week. Ukrainian forces are digging in to repel them.
Meanwhile, Kyiv has warned it could build its own nuclear arsenal if Western military alliance NATO refuses to let it join.
It once had leftover Soviet nukes but agreed to give them up in return for security guarantees from Britain, the US and Russia.
Andriy Melnik, Kyiv’s envoy to Germany, said: “We will do everything to ensure Putin will not attack tomorrow or the day after.
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“We are dealing with the largest troop movement in Russia since the Second World War.”
Russia is said to have installed anti-aircraft missiles in occupied Crimea, allowing it control of almost all Black Sea airspace.