Russia has 90,000 troops near Ukraine border, Kyiv says

Ukrainian defence ministry says Moscow has left military units along the frontier after recent training exercises.

This spring, Moscow alarmed Kyiv and Western capitals by building up tens of thousands of troops along the border with Ukraine, though it later ordered them back to base [File: Baz Ratner/Reuters]

Russia has left military units near its border with Ukraine after training exercises, with the number of troops in the area now totalling 90,000, according to the Ukrainian defence ministry.

Russian armed forces recently held a series of large-scale drills in the region, including with airborne troops, the ministry said late on Tuesday.

After the training, units of the 41st Army stayed behind, about 260 kilometres (160 miles) from the Ukrainian border, it added.

“It should be noted that the Russian Federation periodically resorted to the practice of transferring and accumulating military units in order to maintain tensions in the region and political pressure on neighbouring states,” the ministry said.

The United States, an ally of Kyiv, said it was also seeing a significant amount of Russian military movement along its border with Ukraine, albeit nothing that was “overtly aggressive”.

“We’ve seen this before … What does this mean? We don’t know yet, too early to tell,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley said on Wednesday.

This spring, Moscow alarmed Kyiv and Western capitals by building up thousands of troops along the border with Ukraine, though it later ordered them back to base.

Ukraine’s defence ministry had earlier denied recent media reports that Russia was again massing troops near the two countries’ shared border, saying on Monday that it had not observed an increase in forces or weaponry.

Kyiv’s rebuttal came after the US-based Politico news outlet said commercial satellite photos taken on Monday “confirmed” reports that Russia was assembling troops and military equipment in the region.

Satellite pictures supplied by US space company Maxar Technologies showed about 1,000 military vehicles near the Russian town of Yelnya, about 250 kilometres (150 miles) north of the Ukrainian border.

“Based on a review of recent satellite images, the equipment (which includes tanks, armoured personnel carriers, self-propelled artillery and associated support equipment) likely began arriving in the area in late September,” Maxar told Reuters.

The Kremlin rejected that report and on Wednesday said that Russia maintains a military presence on its territory where necessary.

Relations between Kyiv and Moscow have plummeted since 2014, when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and a war broke out between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed separatist forces in eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine says at least 14,000 people have died in the conflict.

Ukraine and its allies accuse Russia of sending troops and arms across its border to support the separatists fighting in the country’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Moscow denies this and has repeatedly accused the US-headed NATO transatlantic military alliance of carrying out provocative activities close to its borders.

The alliance says it is determined to reinforce the security of member states close to Russia following Moscow’s seizure of Crimea and its alleged involvement in the conflict in Ukraine, which is a NATO ally, but not a member.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies