News / Europe

NATO: Russia Could Be Poised to Invade Eastern Ukraine

FILE - A Russian flag is seen behind a Russian army vehicle.
FILE - A Russian flag is seen behind a Russian army vehicle.
VOA News

Russia, has amassed around 20,000 combat-ready troops on Ukraine's eastern border, could use the pretext of a humanitarian or peace-keeping mission to invade, NATO warned on Wednesday.

"We share the concern that Russia could use the pretext of a humanitarian or peacekeeping mission as an excuse to send troops into eastern Ukraine," NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said Wednesday.

At a news conference late Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama rejected - for now - calls to provide Ukraine with lethal military aid.

“If you start seeing an invasion by Russia, then that’s a different set of questions.  We’re not there yet,” said Obama wrapping up a summit with African leaders in Washington.

He said instead that sanctions designed to hit hard at the Russian economy should be given more time to work.

“We’re doing exactly what we should be doing and we’re very pleased that our European allies and our partners joined us,” said Obama.

The White House has said Vice President Joe Biden discussed concerns about Russia’s most recent military build-up with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in a phone call Wednesday.

"The two leaders expressed concern with Russian statements suggesting a role for Russian “peacekeepers” in Ukraine, with Russia’s ongoing military buildup on Ukraine’s border, and with Russia’s continuing transfer of weapons to Russian proxies in Ukraine," the White House said in a read-out of the call.

A day earlier, the Western military alliance said Russia has "significantly increased" the number of troops on its border with Ukraine in recent days, bringing the total there to around 20,000, along with a large number of tanks, infantry, special forces and aircraft.

Stating the conflict in Ukraine was fueled by Russia, NATO said in a statement that the troop build-up had further escalated “a dangerous situation.”

“We're not going to guess what's on Russia's mind, but we can see what Russia is doing on the ground - and that is of great concern,” Lungescu said in an emailed statement.

The concern of a possible invasion was echoed by U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

“When you see the buildup of Russian troops and the sophistication of those troops, the training of those troops, the heavy military equipment that's being put along that border, of course it's a reality and it's a threat.  And it's a possibility, absolutely," said Hagel following a visit to U.S. European Command Headquarters.

'Significant re-buildup'

Late last month, U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken said there had been "a significant re-buildup of Russian forces along the border, potentially positioning Russia for a so-called humanitarian or peacekeeping intervention in Ukraine."

Also Wednesday, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said that the threat of Russian intervention in Ukraine has risen over the past few days.

"We have reasons to suspect - we have been receiving such information in the last several hours - that the risk of a direct intervention is higher than it was several days ago," Tusk told reporters in Warsaw.

Moscow denies Western accusations that it has armed and supported rebels who are fighting Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine. It announced new military exercises to take place all this week, involving bombers and warplanes on Monday in a show of strength near the border with Ukraine.

'Combat readiness'

Meanwhile, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Wednesday that the peacekeeping units of Russia's armed forces need to be in a state of "constant combat readiness."

He made his comments while observing drills conducted by a peacekeeping unit at a base in southern Russia's Samara region.

NATO said early this year that Russia had amassed some 40,000 troops close to the Ukraine border. By June, the number had dropped to less than 1,000, but then Russia started building the force up again.

The comments came as intense fighting between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists continued in eastern Ukraine.

A Ukrainian military spokesman said Wednesday that 18 servicemen had been killed and 54 wounded in fighting over the previous 24 hours.

UN meeting

On Tuesday Russia urged the United Nations to take immediate action to deal with the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, but the U.S. said Russia has the means to stop it.

At an emergency Security Council meeting called by Russia Tuesday, Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said international humanitarian principles need to be followed in eastern Ukraine. He criticized the government in Kyiv for what he calls its violent repression of the region.

Deputy U.S. Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo said Russia could stop all of it by halting the flow of fighters, weapons and money to the separatists. But she said Russia has instead doubled the number of troop battalions near the border and plans large-scale military exercises.

U.N. official John Ging told the council the humanitarian situation is getting worse in Ukraine especially because of violence in urban areas. He said many who have fled their homes do not register with officials, making it hard to assess relief needs.

MH17 investigation, recovery suspended

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has recalled investigators probing the shootdown of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine, saying fighting near the crash site makes it too dangerous to continue.

Rutte, speaking Wednesday in The Hague, also gave no timetable for resuming the search for human remains. He said only that the effort will continue when Ukraine is "more stable."

Flight MH17, with 298 people on board, was downed July 17 near the city of Donetsk, in an area controlled by pro-Russia rebels.  Most of the victims on the Amsterdam-to-Kuala Lumpur flight were Dutch.  There were no survivors.  Authorities say 228 coffins with remains have so far been returned to the Netherlands.

VOA's Jeff Seldin contributed to this report; some information provided by Reuters.

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Comment Sorting
by: Godwin from: Nigeria
August 06, 2014 2:25 PM
At the centenary of the world war one touted to be the war end all wars, NATO is beginning to find fundamental flaws in its makeup. It’s been made up to confront a common enemy – if there is anything like that. That is if one member is attacked becomes all the members’ problem to give collective response. Perhaps Russia was in mind when NATO was formulating its policy. Now the saying goes that things are easier said than done, and the case between NATO member states and Russia may not have been envisaged, or when it was, the world looked differently in the kind of scenario expected. No one actually was thinking of a nuclear-age confrontation. I do not mean the timidity of member-nations to say things, but I refer to the actual strikes, especially if Russia wishes to make good the fear of Oana Lungescu that Russia wants to use the disguise of humanitarian and/or peace-keeping mission to attack, who will bail the cat?

But the first question should be, why create the avenue for Russia to come in in the first place? Why does Kiev respond high-handedly to the self-determination effort of the Donetsk people? Why must NATO and EU not allow due processes of legislation and referendum/conference to decide what the people want? Why is East Ukraine being forced to remain in a country that refuses to allow due process in choice of where the people should belong, hence we know that the people are being forced to belong to a pro-west Ukraine? It will be insensitive of Moscow not to respond or intervene when it sees lives and interests being jeopardized by Ukraine mob-administration in Kiev

by: Vladimir from: Russia
August 06, 2014 12:23 PM
hey guys, Russia is doing very well thank you for asking... stronger ties with China, Brazil, Germany, France than ever before... and the Jewel in the crown - Israel - after repeated betrayals by Hussein Obama is coming to our side..!! what's to complain ?

by: Michael from: Berlin
August 06, 2014 10:42 AM
Russia seems to be out of control. It lives in its own dimensions and does not hear what international community is speaking about. Poor Ukrainians face deaths,because West can not defend their territorial integrity due to economic ties with Russia. West has no future if it is sponsoring terrorist country like Russia!!!
In Response

by: Michael from: S-Pb
August 07, 2014 12:40 AM
You want to control Russia? You have somehow tried to ... Do not even recalling your attempts in the 20th century. I would like to recall the 19th century and the French effort, about the 18th century and attempts to Sweden, before Poland, Turkey, etc. Learn the history, do not repeat the mistakes of others and their.
In Response

by: Igor from: Russia
August 07, 2014 12:25 AM
Hey Michael, who, do you think, are terrorists in Ukraine? Those who used force against the illegally elected president in Ukraine and forced him to leave because if he had not he would have shot at his head, or those who burned to death a lot of people in Odessa, or those who are killing alot of innocent civilians in the East with mass destruction weapons...I think you are misusing the definition "terrorists". You, the West, call all those who you dislike "terrorists" and are ready to justify for the mass killing of civilians in Gaza. We call it terrorist acts and crime against humanity.

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