Ukraine warns that Russia has ‘almost completed’ the build-up of forces near the border

According to the latest intelligence assessment of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense – shared exclusively with CNN on Tuesday – Russia has now deployed more than 127,000 troops in the region.

“The full force of the RF AF (Russian Federation Armed Forces) Land Group in the Ukrainian direction – (is) over 106,000 men. Together with the sea and air component, the total number of men is over 127,000 soldiers,” reads the assessment.

The assessment called the situation “difficult” and said Ukraine believes Russia is “trying to divide and weaken the EU and NATO.”

Russia’s actions are also “aimed at limiting US capabilities,” the assessment reads, “to ensure security on the European continent.”

The assessment comes after three rounds of diplomatic talks between Russia and the West aimed at de-escalating the crisis failed to create a solution last week.

US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said last Wednesday that it was unclear whether Moscow intended to use the talks as a pretext to claim diplomacy could not work.

Ukrainian military intelligence said Russia had deployed troops from its central and eastern regions to its western border “on a permanent basis”. In late December and January, Russia has moved “stockpiles of ammunition, field hospitals and security services” to the border, it said, which, according to Ukraine, “confirms the preparation for offensive operations.”

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The new assessment also said that Russia supports more than 35,000 rebels in eastern Ukraine and has about 3,000 of its own military personnel based on the territory of the rebels. Moscow denies having any forces in eastern Ukraine.

Russia’s intelligence activity against Ukraine has also intensified, according to the assessment, with additional radio and satellite traffic units deployed near the Ukrainian border and reconnaissance flights along the border have tripled since this time last year.

The Ukrainian military also said Russia could use medium-range missile weapons to “destroy vital items”, noting that “additional tactical groups of ‘Iskander’ operational-tactical missiles” have been transferred to the border.

As of mid-January, there are an estimated 36 Iskander rockets near Ukraine.

Iskander missiles are capable of hitting targets 500-700 km (approximately 310-430 miles) away and can now target areas including the capital Kiev, it says.

New front line

The Ukrainian document warned that a new potential front line has now emerged along its northern border with Belarus, a key ally in the Kremlin.

“Belarus’s territory should be considered as a fully-fledged area of ​​operation that Russia can use to expand aggression against Ukraine,” the Ukrainian military intelligence document said.

US State Department officials stressed these concerns on Tuesday, saying Russia’s reinforced troops’ presence in Belarus has increased their capacity along the Ukrainian border and led to increased concern about an invasion.

“What it represents is an increased capacity for Russia to launch this attack. Increased opportunities, increased opportunities, increased risk,” said a senior State Department official, adding that troops were moved into Belarus without sufficient notice.

In Belarus, “Russia (the Belarusian leader Alexander) is trying to lure Lukashenko’s vulnerabilities and calling in some of the accumulated IOUs,” the official said.

“The timing is remarkable and, of course, raises concerns that Russia might intend to station troops in Belarus under the guise of joint military exercises to potentially attack Ukraine from the north,” the official said.

While the official would not speak to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intention when it comes to moving troops into Belarus, the official described Putin as “an opportunist”.

“We have seen warning signs that the dynamics inside Belarus are allowing Russia to further trade on Lukashenko’s self-inflicted vulnerability,” the official said.

U.S. officials have said a Russian invasion of Ukraine could take place at any time in the next month or two.

“Russian military plans to begin operations several weeks before a military invasion are something we have been following closely, and our assessment has been that it could happen at any time between mid-January and mid-February,” he explained. second senior official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The United States is taking a closer look at whether Lukashenko still has control over his country – or whether decision-making has largely been handed over to Russia.
Belarus has become an “increasingly destabilizing actor in the region”, said the former Foreign Ministry official, pointing to a number of recent actions, such as the creation of a migrant crisis on the Polish-Belarusian border, the arrest of activists and the detention of more than 900 political prisoners .

‘United against Putin’

Ukraine’s assessment comes when the country’s former president, Petro Poroshenko, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday that “the whole world should stand united against Putin” and that Ukraine should be allowed to join NATO.

The billionaire led Ukraine from 2014 to 2019, taking power shortly after Russia invaded and subsequently annexed Crimea. He was defeated in the 2019 presidential election by incumbent Volodymyr Zelensky.

“There is an absolute need for international solidarity and unity” against Putin, Poroshenko said, adding that Western allies should not trust the Russian leader.

The 56-year-old also called for increasing international sanctions against Russia. “We need to make Russia weaker, and to make Russia weaker, we can do it through sanctions. We should make Ukraine stronger. And day by day we should receive new effective defensive lethal weapons,” he said.

Poroshenko also said that “no one knows, including Putin”, whether a Russian invasion will actually happen, and much will depend on the imposition of sanctions. He called a potential invasion a “crazy decision” and said the international community should “increase the price Putin has to pay significantly” if Russian forces cross the Ukrainian border.

Asked whether endemic corruption is a reason why Ukraine has not been accepted as a member of NATO, Poroshenko pointed out to his successor, Zelensky, the blame for a “relapse” of corruption reforms.

Poroshenko returned to the capital Kyiv on Monday to be charged with treason in connection with the financing of Russian-backed separatist fighters through illegal coal sales in 2014 and 2015.

When pressured into the charges he faces, Poroshenko said the charges were “politically motivated” and that the charges had “zero evidence”.

According to Reuters, critics say his return to Ukraine serves as a poorly timed distraction amid the political crisis with Russia.

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