Ukraine warns that Russia has ‘almost finished’ building up forces near the border

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According to the latest intelligence assessment from Ukraine’s Defense Ministry – shared exclusively with CNN on Tuesday – Russia has now deployed more than 127,000 troops to the region.

“The full strength of the ground group RF AF (Armed Forces of the Russian Federation) in the Ukrainian leadership – (is) more than 106,000 men. Together with the sea and air component, the total number of men is more than 127,000 military,” the assessment reads. .

The assessment called the situation “difficult” and said Ukraine believed Russia was “trying to divide and weaken the European Union and NATO”.

Russia’s actions are also aimed at “limiting the capabilities of the United States”, according to the assessment, “to provide security on the European continent”.

The assessment comes after three rounds of diplomatic talks between Russia and the West aimed at defusing the crisis failed to reach a resolution last week.

US Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman said last Wednesday that it was unclear whether Moscow intended to use the talks as a pretext to argue that diplomacy cannot work.

Ukraine’s military intelligence said Russia had deployed troops from its central and eastern regions to its western border “permanently”. In late December and January, Russia moved “stockpiles of ammunition, field hospitals and security services” to the border, she said, which Ukraine said “confirms preparedness for offensive operations”.

The new assessment also indicates that Russia supports more than 35,000 rebels in eastern Ukraine and has about 3,000 of its own military based in rebel territory. Moscow denies having forces in eastern Ukraine.

Russia’s intelligence activity against Ukraine has also increased, according to the assessment, with additional radio and satellite traffic units deployed near the Ukrainian border and reconnaissance flights along the border having tripled. since this time last year.

Ukraine’s military also said Russia could use medium-range missile weapons to “destroy vital objects”, noting that “additional operational and tactical ‘Iskander’ missile battle groups” have been transferred to the border.

As of mid-January, there were 36 Iskander launchers near Ukraine, according to the assessment.

The Iskander missiles are capable of hitting targets 500 to 700 km (about 310 to 430 miles) away and could now target areas such as the capital, Kiev, he said.

New front line

The Ukrainian document warned that a potential new frontline has now emerged along its northern border with Belarus, a key Kremlin ally.

“The territory of Belarus should be considered a full-fledged theater of operations that Russia can use to expand aggression against Ukraine,” the Ukrainian military intelligence document said.

US State Department officials highlighted those concerns on Tuesday, saying the increased presence of Russian troops in Belarus had increased their capabilities along the Ukrainian border and raised concerns about an invasion.

“What this represents is an increased capability for Russia to launch this attack. Increased opportunities, increased possibilities, increased risks,” a senior US State Department official said, adding that the troops had been transferred to Belarus without sufficient notice.

In Belarus, Russia is “addressing the vulnerability of (Belarusian leader Alexander) Lukashenko and calling on some of those accumulated IOUs,” the official said.

“The timing is remarkable and of course raises concerns that Russia may intend to station troops in Belarus under the guise of joint military exercises in order to potentially attack Ukraine from the north,” he said. the manager.

Although the official wouldn’t talk about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intention when it comes to moving troops to Belarus, the official described Putin as “an opportunist.”

“We have seen early signs that the dynamics inside Belarus allow Russia to take further advantage of Lukashenko’s self-inflicted vulnerability,” the official said.

US officials have said a Russian invasion of Ukraine could happen anytime over the next two months.

Russian military plans to begin activities several weeks before a military invasion is something we have been watching closely and our assessment has been that it could happen anytime between mid-January and mid-February,” he said. explained a second senior State Department official.

The United States is closely examining whether Lukashenko still has the levers of control in his country – or whether decision-making has been largely transferred to Russia.
Belarus has become an “increasingly destabilizing player in the region,” the top State Department official said, pointing to a number of recent actions such as fabricating a migration crisis on the Polish- Belarus, the arrest of activists and the detention of more than 900 political prisoners.

“United Against Putin”

Ukraine’s assessment comes as the country’s former president, Petro Poroshenko, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday that “the whole world should be united against Putin” and that Ukraine should be allowed to join the NATO.

The billionaire ruled Ukraine from 2014 to 2019, taking power shortly after Russia invaded and then annexed Crimea. He was defeated in the 2019 presidential election by incumbent Volodymyr Zelensky.

“It is absolutely necessary that there is international solidarity and unity” against Putin, Poroshenko said, adding that Western allies should not trust the Russian leader.

The 56-year-old also called for an increase in international sanctions against Russia. “We have to weaken Russia, and to weaken Russia we can do it through sanctions. We have to strengthen Ukraine. And day by day we have to receive new effective defensive lethal weapons,” he said. he declares.

Poroshenko also said that “nobody knows, including Putin” whether a Russian invasion will actually happen and that much will depend on the introduction of sanctions. Calling a possible invasion a “crazy decision”, he said the international community should “significantly increase the price that Putin would have to pay” if Russian forces crossed the Ukrainian border.

Asked if rampant corruption was a reason Ukraine was not accepted into NATO, Poroshenko blamed his successor, Zelensky, for a “backsliding” of corruption reforms.

Poroshenko returned to the capital, Kyiv, on Monday to face treason charges related to funding Russian-backed separatist fighters through illegal coal sales in 2014 and 2015.

Asked about the charges against him, Poroshenko said the charges were “politically motivated” and that prosecutors had “no evidence”.

According to Reuters, critics say his return to Ukraine serves as a distraction at the wrong time amid the political crisis with Russia.

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