MUNICH - Violence in eastern Ukraine is intensifying and Russian-backed rebels have moved heavy weaponry back to the front line, international monitors warned on Saturday as Moscow responded by accusing the West of dragging the world back 50 years.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev described East-West relations as having “fallen into a new Cold War” and said NATO was “hostile and closed” towards Russia , in the latest sign that peace efforts have made scant progress almost two years since Moscow annexed Crimea. “I sometimes wonder - are we in 2016 or 1962?,” Medvedev asked in a speech to the Munich Security ConFerence.
Russia has dispatched a new ship armed with cruise missiles to the Mediterranean, the navy announced Saturday, as reports said it is bound for Syria. The Zelyony Dol, a patrol ship armed with Kalibr cruise missiles that only joined the Black Sea fleet in December, departed for the Mediterranean, the Black Sea fleet said in a statement.
Russia said on Saturday a ceasefire deal for Syria agreed by major powers was more likely to fail than succeed, as Syrian government forces backed by further Russian air strikes gained more ground against rebels near Aleppo. International divisions over Syria surfaced anew at a Munich conference where Russia rejected French charges that it was bombing civilians, just a day after world powers agreed on the "cessation of hostilities" due to begin in a week's time.
The Syrian army looked poised on Saturday to advance into the Islamic State-held province of Raqqa for the first time since 2014, apparently to pre-empt any move by Saudi Arabia to send ground forces into Syria to fight the militant insurgents. The cessation of hostilities deal falls short of a formal ceasefire, since it was not signed by the warring parties - the government and rebels seeking to topple President Bashar al-Assad in a five-year-old war that has killed 250,000 people. If its forces retake Aleppo and seal the Turkish border, Damascus would deal a crushing blow to the insurgents who were on the march until Russia intervened, shoring up Assad's rule and paving the way to the current reversal of rebel fortunes.
US Secretary of State John Kerry told the Munich Security Conference that Russia must stop targeting moderate rebels in Syria and pull its troops out of Ukraine.
"To date, the vast majority of Russia 's attacks (in Syria) have been against legitimate opposition groups," Kerry told the audience. "To adhere to the agreement it made, Russia 's targeting must change," he said, referring to the international deal forged on Friday, in which foreign ministers agreed to seek a "cessation of hostilities" in Syria within a week.
"This is the moment. This is a hinge point. Decisions made in the coming days and weeks, and a few months could end the war in Syria - or could define a very difficult set of choices for the future."
He spoke shortly after Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said the world had "slid into a new period of Cold War ." "Almost every day we are accused of making new horrible threats either against NATO as a whole, against Europe or against the US or other countries," Medvedev said.
Meanwhile, Turkey’s military has shelled Kurdish militia targets near the town of Azaz in northern Syria, a Turkish government source told Reuters on Saturday, without elaborating on the extent of the shelling or why it had been carried out.
“The Turkish Armed Forces fired shells at PYD positions in the Azaz area,” the source said, referring to the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which Ankara regards as a terrorist organisation.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the shelling had targeted a Syrian air base and a village captured from insurgents in recent days by the YPG militia, which is backed by the PYD.

A panel of eastern European leaders were eager to add to the criticism of Russia 's assertive foreign policy. "Every single day, Russian troops, Russian weapons, Russian ammunition penetrate into my country," said Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko.
He addressed Russia 's president, who was not present, saying: "Mr (Vladimir) Putin, this is not a civil war in Ukraine, this is your aggression. This is not a civil war in Crimea, this is your soldiers who occupied my country."
Kerry emphasised that sanctions on Russia would remain in place until it implements all aspects of the Ukraine peace agreement reached in Belarus' capital Minsk last year. "Russia has a simple choice: fully implement Minsk or continue to face economically damaging sanctions," he said.
An emotional Poroshenko also warned that "pro-Russian parties" were undermining Europe from within with an alternative set of values. "Isolationism, intolerance, disrespect of human rights, religious fanatics, homophobia - this alternative Europe has a leader. His name is Mr Putin."
By contrast, Medvedev had earlier criticised the expansion of NATO and EU influence deep into formerly Soviet-ruled eastern Europe, which Russia still sees as its sphere of influence.
"European politicians thought that creating a so-called belt of friends at Europe's side, on the outskirts of the EU, could be a guarantee of security, and what's the result?" he said. "Not a belt of friends but a belt of exclusion."
But he also struck a more positive note, saying: "Our positions differ, but they do not differ as much as 40 years ago when a wall was standing in Europe."
NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg also addressed the forum, vowing to combine a firm stance against Russia with more dialogue.
"We have seen a more assertive Russia , a Russia which is destabilising the European security order," he said. "NATO does not seek confrontation and we don't want a new Cold War . At the same time our response has to be firm."
NATO is "undertaking the biggest reinforcement to our collective defence in decades, to send a powerful signal to deter any aggression or intimidation," Stoltenberg added. "Not to wage war, but to prevent war."
Earlier this week, Stoltenberg announced that plans had been approved for an increased NATO presence in eastern Europe - which sources said would involve between 3,000 and 6,000 troops rotating through the region. "Russia's rhetoric, posture and exercises of its nuclear forces are aimed at intimidating its neighbours, undermining trust and stability in Europe," Stoltenberg said in Munich.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov hit back, criticising the "fashion for Russophobia in some capitals" and the "failure of NATO and the EU to fully cooperate with Russia ".