Russia Continues Massing Military Hardware on Ukrainian Border

Ukrainian servicemen work on their tank close to the front line with Russian-backed separatists near Lysychansk, Lugansk region on April 7, 2021. - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has urged NATO to speed up his country's membership into the alliance, saying it was the only way to end fighting with pro-Russia …
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Ukrainian media on Wednesday accused Russia of escalating violence in the Donbass region and continuing to move large amounts of military hardware to the Ukrainian border using highways and railroads.

Ukrainian military officials have expressed concern that Russia is preparing an invasion or incursion under the cover of military drills.

Ukraine’s Unian Information Agency (UIA) on Wednesday gathered new videos from social media showing Russian military convoys heading for the border, bringing everything from artillery to armored vehicles:

“The Ukrainian Defense Ministry’s Main Intelligence Directorate does not rule out that enemy forces may try to go for an incursion and deploy their troops deeper into the territory of Ukraine. According to intelligence reports, Russia is building up its military presence near the Ukrainian borders and is completing the preparation of a set of measures aimed at forcing Ukraine into a military response,” UIA reported.

The Kyiv Post wrote Wednesday that Ukrainian soldiers are “holding the line amid Russian escalation” and the coronavirus pandemic, while “the Kremlin has massed troops along Ukraine’s eastern borders for what it describes as routine military exercises.” Two more Ukrainian soldiers were killed this week in clashes with the Russia-supported Donbass separatists.

The Kremlin on Wednesday criticized Ukraine’s appeal to join NATO and said Russia will keep as many forces on the Ukrainian border as it sees fit.

“Russia’s armed forces are on Russian territory in the places it considers necessary and appropriate, and they will stay there for as long as our military leadership and supreme commander consider it appropriate,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Separatist leaders in Donbass accused Ukraine of causing the conflict to escalate with “the cynical shelling of our territory by Ukrainian armed units,” and said Kyiv is the party that wants the conflict to boil over into open warfare so it can draw Europe and the United States in through NATO.

“Kyiv speaks about reaching peace via joining a military alliance — an oxymoron the Ukrainian leader is sending to the media space with a serious face. Needless to say that such calls call to question Ukraine’s already ragged reputation as a negotiating partner,” said Natalia Nikonorova, foreign minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic.

Ukrainian diplomat Leonid Kravchuk said Tuesday that he will never return to the city of Minsk in Belarus for further negotiations, and would quit his post if ordered to do so, because the Belarusian are aligned with Russia and have been “making very ugly and obscene statements regarding Ukraine.” Minsk was the venue for negotiations in 2014 and 2015 that produced a peace plan for Donbass, a set of accords Kyiv and the separatists perpetually accuse each other of violating.

The Moscow Times worried on Tuesday that Ukraine and Russia are slowly “sliding into war” as the threadbare truce created by the Minsk accords unravels completely:

In retaliation for Kiev’s recent crackdown on pro-Russian media and politicians, Moscow is staging a large-scale and ostentatious military buildup along the Ukrainian border.

The situation is especially volatile in Donbass, where the ceasefire between the Ukrainian army and Moscow-sponsored breakaway territories has effectively broken down. Both sides accuse each other of provocations and regularly exchange fire, with the casualties mounting among both military personnel and civilians.

Amid this grim reality, the two countries’ claims that they are doing everything they can to avoid a war ring hollow. Yet their protestations may not be entirely untrue. Although both Kiev and Moscow are eager to reap the benefits of the sudden escalation, a rational assessment of the potential risks should ensure they stop short of a full-fledged military confrontation.

The Moscow Times gave Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky credit for a “sincere promise to bring peace to Ukraine” when he was elected in 2019, but argued he could not make all of the concessions to Russia envisioned by the Minks accords without getting booted out of office by “the Ukrainian nationalist opposition.” 

In this analysis, Zelensky lost whatever maneuvering room he still had when the coronavirus pandemic blasted the Ukrainian economy. His public support is cratering, prompting him to look for support in the Western world, to the great annoyance of Russia. 

Zelensky further alienated Moscow with anti-corruption investigations and pro-Western reforms that reduced Russian influence in Kyiv, his efforts to keep Russia’s annexation of Crimea alive as an international issue, and his insistence on ignoring the Donbass separatist leadership as puppets as he insists on direct negotiations with their Russian patrons.

The Moscow Times optimistically predicted Russia will realize it has little to gain and much to lose by invading Ukraine, not least because the Russian public is weary of military interventions and parliamentary elections are fast approaching. A war could damage Russia’s investments in Crimea, as well as major deals with Europe such as the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Instead of planning an invasion, Putin could be moving military hardware to the Ukranian border to intimidate Zelensky and thwart his attempt to join NATO.

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