The Russian military is massing troops at its border with Ukraine, says Ukrainian and U.S. military intelligence agencies. The buildup includes more than 300 tanks and the support troops necessary to move those tanks, all within five miles of entering Ukrainian territory. It’s the latest in a series of Russian provocations aimed at seizing Ukrainian assets.
After the Russian annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, the Russian government and military have engaged in a near-nonstop effort to provoke Ukraine while violating its sovereignty. Ever since, the Kremlin has also been funding separatists in Eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region, which borders Russia. It’s not known if the movement of Russian troops within sight of Ukraine’s borders has any bearing on the Luhansk insurgency.
Russia has been holding massive war games since 2015, the year after capturing Crimea from Ukraine.
(Photo by K. Kallinkov)
In response to the mass of Russian troops, Ukraine implemented martial law and began the deployment of its Marines and airborne brigades, as well as military exercises involving air strikes and naval forces in the area. Along with the Russian buildup of armored forces, Russian military airfields along the border are being upgraded and modernized.
The buildup not only exists along the recognized Ukraine-Russia border, but Ukrainian military intelligence believes there is a significant buildup of Russian forces in the Crimean Peninsula as well.
“The Kremlin is further testing the strength of the global order,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told Radio Free Europe. “If the world agrees, the Sea of Azov and then the Black Sea will be turned into a Russian lake.“
A Russia-backed rebel armored fighting vehicles convoy near Donetsk, Eastern Ukraine, May 30, 2015.
(Photo by Mstyslav Chernov)
In November, 2018, the Russian Navy seized three Ukrainian ships as they tried to traverse the Kerch Strait, linking the Sea of Azov with the Black Sea. Ukraine shares a coast with both the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea with Russia, but the Kerch Strait is the only waterway for Ukrainian ships to leave the Sea of Azov for the Black Sea. Six Ukrainian sailors were wounded when Russian Coast Guard vessels fired on their ships. Russia also detained 24 Ukrainians.
In recent days, Ukraine has done what it can to resist Russian interference in its affairs, including fighting the rebels in the Donbas region and separating the Ukrainian Orthodox Church from the Russian Orthodox Church. The country has also been building up its military and defense systems since 2014, according to NATO officials.
A Ukrainian BTR-80 armored personnel carrier deployed to the Donbas Region of Eastern Ukraine.
(Ukraine Ministry of Defence)
“The Ukrainian military today is very different from the military that they had in 2014,” Kristjan Prikk, the top civilian in Estonia’s ministry of defense, told the Washington Examiner. “The Ukrainians have built, bought, [had] donated quite a lot of equipment. They’ve been putting heavy emphasis on mobility — anti-armor capabilities, communications … It’s definitely a credible fighting force.”
Prikk keeps a close eye on the Russians, especially after Estonia joined NATO, the Western anti-Soviet-turned-anti-Russian alliance in 2004. Ukraine has been trying to join the alliance since 1994 but public support for NATO was very low until the Russian annexation of Crimea 20 years later. Russian President Vladimir Putin is extremely opposed to Ukraine joining the alliance and threatened to annex the Eastern portion of Ukraine if it does so.