The Ukraine conflict is a “red hot” war that shows no sign of ending soon, the Defence Secretary warned as he announced Britain will step up training to Ukrainian forces fighting Russian-backed separatists.

Michael Fallon said the 18-month long crisis had not settled into a frozen war and Ukraine’s eastern border was still at risk from Vladimir Putin.

He also opened the door to sending further military trainers to the country if the Kiev government asked for them and said the UK would offer support for as long as it was needed.

Mr Fallon spoke on a visit to see British military training teams outside the Ukrainian capital, as a surge in fighting in the east of the country saw the heaviest artillery attacks on government positions for six months, with both sides accusing one another of readying for a return to all-out offensive warfare.

The most intense violence has centred on Starohnativka, a town 30 miles north of the Ukrainian-controlled strategic port of Mariupol.

The Ukrainian military said it repulsed an attack by 400 rebels backed by tanks who assaulted its positions there on Monday morning. Shelling was reported to be continuing in the area on Tuesday.

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