A senior Kremlin official on Thursday said Russia could face circumstances where it needs to defend its citizens in east Ukraine and that military action might ensue, Reuters reported.

The deputy head of Russia’s presidential administration, Dmitry Kozak, was quoted as saying, “I support the assessment that … the start of military action — this would be the beginning of the end of Ukraine.”

The remarks came on the same day that Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinOvernight Energy: Progressives fear infrastructure’s climate plans won’t survive Senate | EPA to propose vehicle emissions standards by July’s end | Poll shows growing partisan divide on climate change Putin plans to go to Biden climate summit: report CNN’s Chance among journalists detained while covering Navalny imprisonment  MORE accused Ukraine of provocative action in the country’s eastern region during a phone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Putin accused Kyiv of “inflaming the situation there.”

Ukraine announced on Saturday that it would hold joint military drills with NATO troops, with more than 1,000 military personnel from five NATO nations. There was no specification of when the exercises would be held.

The Ukrainian parliament put out a statement last week declaring an “escalation” along the front, citing a “significant increase in shelling and armed provocations by the armed forces of the Russian Federation.”

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