(FoxNews) Ukrainian military leader warned Thursday that the peninsula of Crimea is an integral part of Ukraine and that he cannot accept anything else.
Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak told an armed forces meeting in Kiev that Russia could expand the Ukrainian peninsula into other Ukrainian territory, a claim the Kremlin denied.
“Under such a scenario there would be a bloody massacre,” he said.
Poltorak’s warnings came a day after Moscow re-established its last line of communication with Kiev at a baltic water border crossing, seen as a move to cut Ukraine out of the Crimean peninsula.
At the crossing, Acting Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, who signed a separate protocol establishing the contact line, called the move “cynical and pointless.”
“They now think they can use propaganda to exert psychological pressure. We will not resign from the struggle and our forces are not tired,” he told the armed forces meeting.
Russia has vowed to keep its military on Ukrainian soil, despite a cease-fire that went into effect February 12. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said this week that Russia will defend Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
The truce calls for both sides to halt shelling and to pull back their military forces.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has also called for the restoration of the security, economic and cultural ties that existed before Russia’s annexation of Crimea, adding that the “speaking voice of the nation” needed to be heard.
Ukraine’s political leadership has been reluctant to sign the association agreement with the European Union that was signed in November by the new French and German governments and that Putin hoped to convince them to fast-track in a way that would bring Ukraine into Moscow’s orbit.
In a statement on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow has not changed its principles of noninterference in the affairs of sovereign states, and that “we cannot and will not create a bloc in the world” led by Russia and other post-Soviet states.
But he said that since “Russian-speaking and Russian-speaking minorities do live in the eastern Ukrainian territories… it is not right to leave them out of the issue.”
Putin also alleged in a radio interview that Ukrainian officials were playing on the suffering of Moscow-speaking and Russian-speaking ethnic Russians in the former Soviet republic.
Putin said “there was certainly a serious deterioration of the humanitarian situation after the anti-terror operation” in eastern Ukraine, “so they felt themselves threatened.”
Since April 2014, Russia has sent troops and tanks to support pro-Russian separatists fighting Ukrainian government forces in the east, which were the largest international aggression against Russia since the end of the Cold War.
After securing control of Crimea in March 2014, Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula.
Putin last week cited near-zero chance of a U.S. attack against Moscow and had offered to offer sanctions relief to allies if Washington and Brussels dropped them.
However, many European leaders have said sanctions won’t be scrapped until there’s proof that Moscow is pulling its troops out of eastern Ukraine.
On Thursday, Poroshenko met for the first time with the head of the Ukrainian security service, Vasyl Hrytsak, over the attacks in eastern Ukraine. Poroshenko said after the meeting that Ukraine will continue “all necessary steps” to defend itself and the territorial integrity of the country.
Hrytsak said he told the president that his forces have continued to confront pro-Russian militants despite Russian assertions that they have halted attacks.
He also said that Russian authorities have blocked broadcasting of Ukrainian radio and television channels in Crimea since March 14, and that the territory would lose its national anthem and history books unless such problems were solved.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.