KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – Ukraine complained on Wednesday that Russia had kept tens of thousands of troops near the country’s border after war games, as part of its attempts to pressure its former Soviet neighbor.
The Ukrainian Defense Ministry’s statement marked a turnaround from its denial of any Russian military build-up – as reported by US media – two days earlier.
The ministry said on Wednesday that around 90,000 Russian troops are stationed near the border and in rebel-controlled areas in eastern Ukraine. He said units of the Russian 41st Army remained in Yelnya, about 260 kilometers (about 160 miles) north of the Ukrainian border.
“Russia has periodically deployed and formed troops to maintain tensions in the region and exert political pressure on neighboring countries,” he said.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Andriy Taran tendered his resignation on Tuesday and Ukrainian lawmakers quickly approved it on Wednesday. Davyd Arakhamia, leader of the People’s Servant Party parliamentary faction of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said Taran had health problems.
Ukrainian media, however, reported that Zelenskyy’s office was behind the resignation of Taran and four other ministers, who were also sacked by parliament on Wednesday.
Russia supported a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine that erupted shortly after Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and claimed more than 14,000 lives. Russia has repeatedly denied any presence of its troops in eastern Ukraine.
Earlier this year, a massive build-up of Russian troops in western Russia raised concerns in Ukraine and the West, fueling fears of an escalation of large-scale hostilities.
Russian officials said the troops had been deployed for maneuvers, presenting them as part of the measures to counter security threats posed by the deployment of NATO forces near Russia’s borders. Russia and the alliance have also blamed each other for carrying out destabilizing military exercises near the borders.
The Kremlin has repeatedly declared that any deployment of troops on Russian territory is its internal affair.
“Russia maintains the presence of troops on its territory wherever it deems necessary,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday during a conference call with journalists.
Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.