by WorldTribune Staff, August 19, 2016
Russia has amassed 40,000 troops along with a number of tanks, armored vehicles and air force units in staging areas near the Ukraine border, the Pentagon said.
Additionally, “large numbers of Russian military forces will conduct exercises in the coming days that Pentagon officials say could be used as cover for an attack on Ukraine,” according to a report by Bill Gertz in The Washington Free Beacon.
“Russian units will likely practice reinforcing the [Crimean] peninsula through such activities as amphibious landings and air defense exercises, and this may involve the change out of equipment and long convoys of military vehicles,” Gertz quoted one defense official as saying.
The report noted that “similar large-scale Russian exercises were conducted near Ukraine a month before Moscow carried out the covert military operation to take over the strategic Black Sea peninsula in March 2014.”
Navy Capt. Danny Hernandez, a spokesman for the U.S. European Command, told the Beacon that the upcoming Russian exercises are being closely monitored.
“We are extremely concerned about the increased tensions near the administrative boundary between Crimea and the rest of Ukraine,” Hernandez said. “We urge both sides to avoid provocative steps or rhetoric that could escalate the situation.”
Russian forces and tanks have been reported moving into eight staging areas stretching from Yelnya, near Smolensk and northeast of Ukraine, southward through Rostov, which is located very close to eastern Ukraine. The staging areas were identified as: Yelnya, Klintsy, Valuyki, Boguchar, Millerovo, Persianovskiy, and bases called Rostov-1 and Rostov-2.
“Regardless of the reason, the warning time for Russian action has been greatly reduced” by the staging of forces near Ukraine, a second defense official said, according to Gertz’s report.
Rep. Mike Pompeo, Kansas Republican, a member, said Russia is continuing aggression and threats against the rest of Ukraine after invading Crimea.
“This is unacceptable and will only serve to further instability in the region,” Pompeo, a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said. “Unfortunately, President Obama is once again ‘leading from behind’ and is doing nearly nothing to buttress the Ukrainian people. Putin must respect the sovereignty of other nations. This is a non-negotiable lesson most countries learned long ago.”
Phillip Karber, head of the Potomac Foundation and a former U.S. arms control official who has traveled extensively in Ukraine war zones, said “the fact that a full scale Russian invasion is still a plausible scenario after 30 months of conflict is an abject repudiation of an American policy of ‘leading from behind’ and West European fetish for trying to find ‘off-ramps’ that Putin hasn’t the slightest interest in taking.”
Karber believes Moscow’s “trumped-up claims” of a recent Ukrainian “terrorist” attack in Crimea could be used as a pretext for an attack.
“For the next month the terrain is perfect for armor moving cross-country and the skies are clear for air,” Karber said. “The 24th of August is Ukraine’s Independence Day, which is when the Russians attacked in 2014. A successful campaign, with U.S. and NATO doing nothing but verbiage, re-establishes Russia as a major European Power that has to be dealt with and increases Putin’s popularity at home.”