The United States and NATO are growing increasingly concerned about Russia’s military posture. The U.S. on Wednesday accused Russia of amassing thousands more troops along its border with Ukraine, as well as tanks and artillery.
Workers in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slovyansk are starting the slow process of repairing damage from fighting.
During a visit Wednesday, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk accused Moscow of backing separatists who held the city until earlier this month.
“They created military conflict here. They, like vampires, suck money from us and kill our people," said Yatsenyuk.
And now U.S. defense officials are concerned Russia’s military posture could signal that more conflict is on the way.
“What’s most concerning really right now is the buildup, is these additional forces that are there," said Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren.
Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren says Russia now has 10,000 to 12,000 troops along the border with eastern Ukraine, up from fewer than 1,000 last month.
“We also have reason to believe that is some weaponry, possibly even some heavy weapons, that are flowing across the border into Ukraine," he said.
NATO officials tell VOA the sophistication of Russian weapons being sent to the separatists is increasing and that Moscow also appears to be supplying separatist forces with the necessary expertise to “employ them with a high degree of effectiveness.”
Jorge Benitez at the Atlantic Council says Russia’s refusal to change its behavior, despite growing economic sanctions, shows President Vladimir Putin still feels he has the upper hand.
“The U.S. is a $16 trillion economy and the EU is a $12 trillion economy and we can’t afford to be bullied by a $2 trillion gas station which is the Russian economy," said Benitez.
The U.S. and NATO have stepped up military exercises, and on Capitol Hill Wednesday, Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work made a case to lawmakers for funding a $1 billion European reassurance initiative.
“All of this money would go into allowing us to have more frequent forward deployments, more frequent exercises. We’d be able to do improved infrastructure that would allow rapid reinforcement if that became necessary," said Work.
For now, U.S. military officials say it is clear Russian forces massing next to Ukraine are capable of conducting operations on either side of the border.