As many as 40,000 Russian troops, including tanks, armored vehicles, and air force units, are now arrayed along Ukraine’s eastern border with Russia.
Additionally, large numbers of Russian military forces will conduct exercises in the coming days that Pentagon officials say could be used as cover for an attack on Ukraine.
“Russian units will likely practice reinforcing the [Crimean] peninsula through such activities as amphibious landings and air defense exercises, and this may involve the change out of equipment and long convoys of military vehicles,” one defense official said.
The military exercises are an ominous sign. Similar large-scale Russian exercises were conducted near Ukraine a month before Moscow carried out the covert military operation to take over the strategic Black Sea peninsula in March 2014.
Navy Capt. Danny Hernandez, a spokesman for the U.S. European Command, told the Washington Free Beacon that the upcoming Russian exercises are being closely monitored.
“We are extremely concerned about the increased tensions near the administrative boundary between Crimea and the rest of Ukraine,” Hernandez said. “We urge both sides to avoid provocative steps or rhetoric that could escalate the situation.”
Russian forces do not appear to be building up inside the occupied Crimean Peninsula along the border with Ukraine, he said.
However, over the past several months large numbers of Russian troops and tanks have been moving into eight bases stretching from Yelnya, near Smolensk and northeast of Ukraine, southward through Rostov—a city located very close to eastern Ukraine.
Defense officials said it is not clear whether the massing of forces is saber rattling by Moscow designed to coerce Ukraine into accepting the takeover of Crimea or preparations for further conflict. “Regardless of the reason, the warning time for Russian action has been greatly reduced” by the staging of forces near Ukraine, a second defense official said.
Russian military forces were identified by the officials at eight locations near the Ukrainian border: Yelnya, Klintsy, Valuyki, Boguchar, Millerovo, Persianovskiy, and bases called Rostov-1 and Rostov-2.
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