WASHINGTON: Nearly 100,000 Russian forces have massed on Ukraine’s border, a top Ukrainian defence official told an American audience yesterday, giving a number far higher than US military estimates.
“Almost 100,000 soldiers are stationed on the borders of Ukraine and in the direction ... of Kharkiv, Donetsk, “ Andriy Parubiy, chairman of Ukraine’s national security council, said via a webcast from Kiev.
“Russian troops are not in Crimea only, they are along all Ukrainian borders. They’re in the south, they’re in the east and in the north,” Parubiy said.
After its intervention in the Crimean peninsula, Russia is plotting to foment separatist sentiment elsewhere and Kiev fears a possible incursion in the country’s east, he told the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank.
Parubiy said any day “we might see a huge attack on the territory of continental Ukraine and we are getting ready for it.” Although US defence officials have put the number of Russian troops closer to 20,000, a US lawmaker said that much stronger Russian forces had deployed towards Ukraine’s border.
“Over the past week we’ve seen the buildup of up to 80,000 additional Russian troops,” Representative Mike Turner said in a statement. Turner said the force included large numbers of armored vehicles, battle tanks, artillery, helicopters and planes.
The Republican lawmaker accused the White House of with-holding “critical” information about the full scope of Russian troop movements and demanded the administration reveal what it knows to help “vulnerable allies.”
Pentagon officials previously have said more than 20,000 Russian troops — including airborne units and armoured vehicles — have deployed along Ukraine’s border, a force big enough to seize control of the eastern region.
But a senior defence official expressed scepticism at Parubiy’s estimate of Russian troop strength. Russia has assured Washington that the Russian forces were there to carry out a “spring” exercise but the Pentagon yesterday acknowledged there was no indication of any drill underway.
“We’ve seen no specific indications that exercises are taking place,” spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said. He declined to discuss US intelligence assessments on the possibility of a Russian attack into eastern Ukraine.
Meanwhile, the US Senate and House of Representatives easily passed bills to provide aid to Ukraine, back a $1bn loan guarantee for the Kiev government and impose sanctions on Russians and Ukrainians over Russia’s annexation of Crimea. The Senate passed its legislation by voice vote and the House voted for its legislation by 399-19, two days after Senate Democrats ended a weeks-long standoff by agreeing to remove from the legislation reforms to the IMF urged by the White House but opposed by many Republicans.