Poland said that a renewed buildup of Russian troops on Ukraine’s border raises the specter of a possible invasion, as President Vladimir Putin ordered his government to prepare a response to U.S. and European sanctions.Numbers of troops?
“Unfortunately, Russia has restored its combat-readiness on the Ukraine border with more than a dozen battalion-sized combat groups,” Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, told TVN24 BiS television yesterday, while giving no indication that an invasion was imminent. “There’s a lot of equipment. This is the sort of thing one does to exert pressure or to invade.”
Putin has showed no sign of backing down over Ukraine since the U.S. and the European Union tightened sanctions last week, with Russia massing forces on its neighbor’s border in the biggest military buildup since troops were withdrawn from the area in May.
Ukraine expressed alarm about a new deployment of Russian forces on its frontier as it pressed an offensive against pro-Russian separatists. There’s “active combat taking place” on the outskirts of Donetsk, with two civilians killed, the city council said on its website last night.
The humanitarian situation in Ukraine is steaily (sic) worsening, John Ging, director of humanitarian operations for the United Nations, said at an emergency meeting of the Security Council yesterday in New York. He said the fighting has killed at least 1,367 people -- both civilians and combatants -- and wounded 4,087 since mid-April.
About 3.9 million people live in areas directly affected by violence and face imminent security threats, while more than 1,000 people flee conflict zones every day, said Ging, who cited a Russian estimate that 740,000 Ukrainians have crossed into Russia since the beginning of the year.
Putin said the government has proposed measures to retaliate against sanctions. Russia may limit or ban flights over Siberia by European carriers bound for Asia as a response to sanctions levied against the country, the Moscow-based Vedomosti newspaper reported yesterday, citing people familiar with the matter it didn’t identify.
“Political instruments of pressure on the economy are unacceptable, they contradict all norms and rules,” Putin said yesterday during a meeting with Alexey Gordeev, governor of the Voronezh region near Ukraine. Any retaliation “must be done extremely carefully to support producers and avoid harming consumers.”
Russia has deployed 45,000 soldiers, 160 tanks and as many as 1,360 armored vehicles, a Ukrainian military spokesman, Andriy Lysenko, told reporters in Kiev yesterday. There are also 192 Russian warplanes and 137 military helicopters, as well as artillery systems and multiple rocket launchers, he said.Don't worry. I'm sure, Obama, Jarrett, Kerry, and their Smart Diplomacy™ will handle it.
Changing and conflicting estimates of the Russian troop presence near Ukraine depend in part on different assumptions.
While estimates cited by Ukraine include about 20,000 Russian forces in Crimea, those by the U.S. and NATO don’t.
On that basis, Rear Admiral John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters yesterday that Russia still has “north of 10,000 troops” on Ukraine’s border, and NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow said in a posting on Twitter that the number is about 20,000.
“The numbers aren’t the key metric here,” Kirby said. “What matters is that they continue to reinforce these units, that they are very capable and very ready across what we call combined arms capabilities -- armor, artillery, air defense, special forces, and that they are closer to the border than they were in the spring.”
Ukraine’s armed forces are pushing ahead with their campaign after the U.S. and the EU increased pressure on Putin over his backing of the rebels with an expansion of sanctions. Last month’s downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, which the U.S. says was probably caused by a missile fired by the insurgents, has helped harden attitudes against Russia. The rebels and Putin’s government blame Ukrainian forces.
While Russia has repeatedly denied any involvement in the conflict, the U.S. and its EU allies blame Putin for failing to rein in the insurgency and stop the war.