Fears of a Russian military attack on neighboring Ukraine are growing among the international community as the Kremlin continues its build-up of troops at the border.
Ukraine has turned to the international community for help after seeing Russia’s military presence steadily grow outside the door.
NATO has called on the Kremlin to be transparent in its ambitions, while the United States has publicly announced its commitment to Ukraine’s security and sovereignty.
Russia, however, has said it does not want to increase tensions in the region and only wants to protect itself from threats from the West.
Here’s a quick guide to what’s happening at Ukraine’s border with Russia and why world leaders fear conflict.
Tensions have been high between Russia and Ukraine for several years
Tensions between neighboring nations have been on and off for many years.
Recently, Ukraine has allied itself more with the West, while keeping its distance from Moscow.
A war in 2014, which led to the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine to Russia, has led to poor relations between both countries.
Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that Crimea was rightly part of Russia, which is still not accepted by Ukraine.
“Our country has regained its historical unity,” he said during a speech in Crimea earlier this month.
“The [Crimea] is with Russia forever now, as it is the sovereign, free and unyielding will of the people, of all our people. “
Russia has also supported separatist movements in eastern Ukraine, leading to a six-year civil war.
Rebel forces control regions of eastern Ukraine, including Donetsk and Luhansk, which went to war against the Ukrainian government in the wake of massive protests in February 2014.
This war has forced Ukraine to strengthen its political ties with the West, which has further divided Kiev and Moscow.
Russia has built its military presence on the border over several months
Russia has steadily built up its presence along the border with Ukraine over the past year.
It is estimated that about 100,000 Russian troops are either close to the border or based in eastern Ukraine, in regions controlled by separatist rebels.
In September, Russia hosted war games with Belarus and a handful of other nations near the border with Ukraine.
The war games, which Russia said involved more than 200,000 men, were the culmination of a major three-month military exercise.
But when the war games were over, many Russian troops remained close to the border, according to Ukraine.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense claimed that about 90,000 to 100,000 Russian troops are stationed in the Russian city of Yelnya, a city about 260 kilometers north of the Ukrainian border.
The commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Lieutenant General Valeriy Zaluzhny, said Russia has about 2,100 military personnel in the eastern part of the country, who are controlled by separatist rebels.
It is a military structure that was described as “unusual” by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
“What we are seeing is a significant, large-scale Russian military build-up,” he said.
“We are seeing an unusual concentration of troops.”
Why have tensions risen in recent days?
Tensions have simmered since military build-up began earlier this year, but have risen over the past fourteen days.
Russia was on high alert when two US warships, the USS Mount Whitney and the USS Porter, sailed into the Black Sea earlier in November.
Tensions escalated last Wednesday when US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba in Washington DC.
During a joint press conference, the United States declared its “serious concern” over Russia’s military presence, saying its commitment to Ukraine’s security and territorial integrity was “iron-clad.”
Sir. Blinken said the United States did not know Russia’s intentions, but said Moscow’s “playbook” has in the past been to invent provocations along its border to justify military intervention.
“We do not have clarity on Moscow’s intentions, but we know its handbook,” he said.
This drew an immediate response from the Kremlin, which denied that Russia wanted to invade Ukraine.
“Never planned, have never done it and will never do it unless we are provoked by Ukraine or by someone else,” said Russia’s Deputy UN Ambassador Dmitry Polyansky.
However, Kuleba sought NATO support on Monday during meetings in Brussels, despite Ukraine not being a member of the alliance.
In a joint statement, the foreign ministers of Germany and France warned Russia against taking any military action in Ukraine.
“Against the background of renewed concerns about Russian movements of troops and hardware near Ukraine, we urge Russia to exercise restraint and provide transparent information about its military activities. Any new attempt to undermine Ukraine’s territorial integrity will have serious consequences,” ” he says. said the ministers.
What is Russia’s justification for increasing its military presence on the border with Ukraine?
While the West is concerned about the conflict at the border, the Kremlin says Russia is protecting itself from threats to it.
The conflict for Russia is about the American warships sailing into the Black Sea, which Russia sees as a threat to its border.
Russia said earlier this year that it fired a warning shot at a British warship, something the British government rejected.
Many countries are connected to the Black Sea by coastlines, including Ukraine and Russia.
But Russia significantly increased the amount of territorial claims it had to the Black Sea when it annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
The move was condemned by Europe and the United States, which still recognize the peninsula as the legitimate territory of Ukraine.
“There are a lot of threats coming from Ukraine,” Mr Polyansky told reporters at UN headquarters last Thursday.
“And do not forget that the American warships around the Black Sea trade very close.”
A day later, the Russian Ministry of Defense reiterated the same concerns, stating that Russia was concerned that the United States was helping Ukraine regain control of its rebel-held eastern regions.
“The real goal behind the US activities in the Black Sea region is to explore the area of operations in case of Kyiv’s attempt to settle the conflict in the southeast by force,” the ministry said in a statement.
Why are Europe and the United States worried?
Ukraine has become an ally of the West since splitting from the former Soviet Union and turning its back on Moscow.
Russia, however, is a supporter of separatists in eastern Ukraine.
The biggest concern for the West is another war similar to 2014, in which Russia increases its territorial claim.
Sir. Blinken said the current accumulation of troops at the border is reminiscent of Russia’s forced annexation of Crimea.
“We know what we have seen in the past: Russia’s mass forces at Ukraine’s borders, asserting some form of provocation on Ukraine’s side and then invading. That was what they did in 2014,” he said.
It was a fear shared by NATO Secretary-General that said: “We know that Russia has been willing to use these types of military capabilities before carrying out aggressive actions against Ukraine.”
“I also think it is important that we do not increase tensions now, but we must be clear in the eyes, we must be realistic about the challenges we face,” Mr Stoltenberg said.
France’s foreign ministry said Russia was “clearly warned of the serious consequences of any further possible damage to Ukraine’s territorial integrity”.
Tensions could lead to more fighting in eastern Ukraine, which has claimed many lives.
The international community was drawn into the conflict when Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was shot down and killed 298 people.
MH17 flew from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was shot down by a missile fired from territory held by pro-Russian rebels during fighting in eastern Ukraine, international investigators said.
Dutch-led investigators, backed by many nations including Australia, blamed Russia for the missile attack.
Russia has said it does not want to fight, but has left the door open for military conflict on the border with Ukraine.
“If you read the threats being made in Ukraine against Russia, against Russian territorial integrity, then you will understand that a certain precaution is a logical step in such a situation,” Mr Polyansky said last week.
ABC / wires