Russian official warns Ukraine of ‘shot in the face’ in chilling Kremlin threat

Tensions are rising around the Black Sea as a top Russian official has issued a stark warning to Ukraine that the diplomatic face-off could soon lead to “full-scale combat operations”.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov warned the situation in eastern Ukraine was “very unstable” and made it clear that Russian army personnel were ready to step in to protect the interests of Russian-speaking residents of Ukraine.

He said that growing tension between the two countries could be the "beginning of the end" for Ukraine.

While he stressed that Russia would not fire the first shot in a conflict between the two countries it would follow up Ukrainian aggression “not with a shot in the leg, but in the face".

In response, Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskiy flew into the contested Donbass region and spoke to troops entrenched there against potential military action from Russian-backed rebels.

It has announced on Friday that the US plans to send two warships to the Black Sea in an attempt to shore up Ukrainian resistance to the Russians.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry has confirmed the US Navy ships are expected to pass through the Sea of Marmara on their way to the Back Sea on April 14 and April 15.

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US air operations in the region are stepping up, with two nuclear-capable B-1 bombers patrolling over the Aegean Sea earlier this week.

While president Putin has insisted that his military response is intended to be purely defensive, the deployment of Russian Navy landing craft in the region suggests that he may be intending to invade Ukraine.

Ruslan Leviev, from the Conflict Intelligence Team, told BBC Ukraine: “We notice the movement of all the units."

"These are both Pskov paratroopers and motorised infantry units," he added. "They are for example, from the Kemerovo region of Siberia, and from Dagestan."

BUK missile launchers of the type that brought down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July 2014, killing 298 passengers and crew, have also been spotted on the Ukranian border.

While controversy over the ultimate responsibility for that act still rages, investigations by news agency McClatchyDC, and Bellingcat lay the blame at FSB Colonel General Andrey Ivanovich Burlaka, first deputy chief of the Russian border service.

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