German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday to pull back a military build- up near the country’s border with Ukraine amid heightened tensions in the conflict-stricken Donbas region. Ukrainian government troops have battled Russian-backed separatists in the country’s eastern Donetsk and Lugansk regions, which form part of Donbas, since the rebels seized a swath of territory there in April 2014. Fears of an escalation in hostilities have mounted in recent weeks, with Ukraine raising the alarm about an increase in Russian forces along the countries’ shared border and renewed front-line clashes. “The Chancellor demanded that this build-up be unwound in order to de- escalate the situation,” Germany’s government said in a readout of a telephone call between Merkel and The Kremlin, for its part, said in its readout of the phone call that “Vladimir Putin noted provocative actions by Kyiv which is deliberately inflaming the situation along the line of contact”. Also on Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the United States was discussing Russian troop movements with its NATO allies. “Russia now has more troops on the border with Ukraine than at any time since 2014,” Psaki told reporters, referring to the period when Russia annexed the Crimea region of Ukraine. “Five Ukrainian soldiers have been killed this week alone. These are all deeply concerning signs,” she added.