KIEV: Ukraine has denied reports of a Russian military build-up near its eastern border which has raised fears of further escalation in fighting with pro-Moscow separatists. The statement came hours before a government official announced on Tuesday that Ukraine’s Defense Minister Andriy Taran had resigned, apparently for health reasons.
Taran, who has headed the ministry since March 2020, has not commented on his resignation, a move Parliament must ratify amid reports of a wider cabinet reshuffle imminent. Taran, 66, “complains about his health,” President Volodymyr Zelensky’s faction leader in parliament Davyd Arakhamiia told reporters.
Opponents criticized him during his tenure, citing insufficient reform of an under-equipped army. In recent days, videos on social media have shown Russian military trains and truck convoys moving tanks and missiles in the southwest of the country, near the Ukrainian border.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Monday that Washington was monitoring the situation, and the Washington Post quoted US officials as being concerned. But the Ukrainian defense ministry said in a statement Monday evening that “no additional deployment” of Russian forces had been observed.
The videos could include “special informational and psychological actions” and show a planned troop movement after a Russian military exercise, he added.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Tuesday he discussed the conflict with US President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow. “The United States continues to support territorial integrity and reforms in Ukraine,” Zelensky tweeted.
Zelensky also had a more formal meeting in Glasgow with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who “reaffirmed the United States’ unwavering support for the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine”, according to a statement from the State Department.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Tuesday dismissed reports of a potential build-up, saying there was no need to “waste time” on “low quality” allegations. “The movement of our military equipment and our army units … is exclusively our business. Russia has never threatened anyone,” he told reporters.
The Ukrainian military is locked in a latent conflict with pro-Russian separatists that erupted after Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. After a rise in violence earlier this year, Russia amassed in about March 100,000 soldiers at the borders of Ukraine, raising fears of a major escalation.
Under pressure from Western Kiev allies, Moscow subsequently announced a withdrawal, but Ukraine and the United States said at the time that the withdrawal was limited. The Ukrainian military said on Tuesday that one of its soldiers was killed in a separatist attack.
The conflict has claimed more than 13,000 lives to date. Russia denies supporting the separatists.