People are gathering in central Moscow to mark the first anniversary of what they view as a “coup” in neighboring Ukraine.
Thousands of people are expected to participate in the pro-Kremlin march, which will be held under the slogan “A Year Since Maidan. We won’t forget! We won’t forgive!”
The “Anti-Maidan” demonstration was promoted in Russia’s state media, with Rossiya 24 television channel saying in its broadcasts: “Come, if you like your country!”
Kyiv’s Maidan protests led to the ouster of Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014.
Russia has annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in March 2014 and fighting between government forces and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine has killed more than 5,400 people in the country’s east since April.
The rally comes a day after hundreds of people marched in Kyiv to honor the memory of the protesters killed during the last year’s pro-EU protests.
Clashes between antigovernment protesters and security forces killed more than 100 people, including 17 security officers, between February 18 and 21, 2014.
Another nine participants in Kyiv’s Maidan protests died in the weeks that preceded the clashes.
Speaking at a commemorative gathering in Kyiv on February 20, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko accused a top Russian presidential aide, Vladislav Surkov, of directing “foreign sniper groups” believed to have targeted Maidan demonstrators.
He cited information he had received from Ukraine’s security services.
The Russian Foreign Ministry called the claim “nonsense.”
Poroshenko was speaking just two days after the Ukrainian army retreated from the strategic town of Debaltseve following weeks of intense fighting against separatists.
The rebels took the transport hub despite a European-brokered cease-fire that went into force on February 15.
Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said on February 20 that more than 20 Russian tanks, 10 missile systems and busloads of troops had entered Ukraine in the previous 24 hours.
There was no independent confirmation of the report.
Moscow denies it is arming pro-Russian separatists and sending soldiers into Ukraine.
In what could be an encouraging sign for the cease-fire agreement, rebels said an exchange of prisoners with the Ukrainian side would take place on February 21, Interfax and TASS news agency reported.
There was no immediate confirmation from Kyiv, but such a swap was agreed by both sides as part of the agreement signed in Minsk last week.
Amid rising tensions with the West over Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned on February 20 that “no-one should have the illusion that they can gain military superiority over Russia, put any kind of pressure on it.”
He added that Russia’s military would always have an “adequate response.”
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in London for talks with British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond.
A senior U.S. official was quoted as saying the Ukrainian conflict was expected to dominate the meeting.
He said Kerry and Hammond would discuss possible penalties that could be imposed against Russia if violence in eastern Ukraine continues.
The United States warned Russia on February 20 that its continued support of the rebels was a direct threat to the “modern global order” and could bring additional costs.
U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration has said it is considering deepening sanctions against Moscow and is weighing the possibility of arming Ukraine’s military to defend itself.
Based on reporting by themoscowtimes.com and the BBC
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