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Russia building ‘significant military capacity’ along Ukrainian borders, US confirms

Then-U.S. Spec Rep for Ukraine Kurt Volker meets with Rada deputies, October 28, 2017. (U.S. Embassy Kyiv Ukraine/Released)
December 18, 2018

A U.S. diplomat has publicly confirmed Russia’s vast military presence in locations bordering Ukraine.

U.S. Special Representative to Ukraine Kurt Volker said that Russia’s military buildup on Ukraine’s borders demonstrates “significant military capacity,” the Washington Examiner reported Monday.

“It’s not something that has happened in the last week or two,” he told reporters. “This is something that has happened over a period of years. Russia invaded Ukraine, it took Crimea, it is occupying the Donbas, and it has, within Russia, built up significant military capacity and also in Crimea built up significant military capacity over time.”

Russia’s militarization of areas near the border has raised concerns that they may be planning on launching a “land grab,” a threat especially concerning following Russia’s seizure of three Ukrainian ships during last month’s conflict in the Kerch Strait.

Russia has claimed that it is Ukraine who is on the brink of launching an offensive.

Volker rejected those remarks on Monday, adding that Russia may be attempting to divert attention from its own military activities and presence in the Kerch Strait, the Associated Press reported.

The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv tweeted today after a meeting between Volker and Ukrainian Defense Ministry Stepan Poltorak, calling on Russia to release the Ukrainian ships and sailors.

“Russia’s aggression is unacceptable. Russia should release the Ukrainian crewmembers, return Ukrainian vessels, and not impede maritime transit to and from Ukrainian ports,” the tweet said.

U.S. members of Congress also expressed concerns last month over what appeared to be Russia building up to an attack.

“I have been and still am concerned that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin will attempt to move even further into Ukraine,” said Rep. Brendan Boyle.

Sen. Ron Johnson said “it’s pretty obvious” that Putin’s plan is to begin “choking off maritime activity to those Ukrainian ports to dramatically harm and effect the economy in those two port cities, which could potentially set up the next step of the land bridge from Russia into Crimea.”

Last week, a new report by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) concluded that Russia was preparing a strike against Ukraine.

“The Russian military is now preparing its forces for direct military involvement,” the ISW said. “The Kremlin is reinforcing ground, naval, and air elements in its Southern Military District – the command likely responsible for managing its ongoing war in Ukraine. Moscow may calculate that the international community will not meaningfully respond if the visibility of its role in the war now increases.”

The ISW also warned that Russia has mobilized troops and equipment under the guise of military exercises. However, the next exercise, Center-2019, is not scheduled to begin until September 2019.

“This early start to the exercises is atypical and may signal preparation for open conflict with Ukraine under the auspices of military exercises. Russia has previously used military exercises as cover to prepare for offensive operations,” the ISW said.