A day after a deputy minister denied any military buildup on the border, the Defense Ministry released a series of statements beginning early Thursday that appeared to contradict that. They outlined what was described as intensive training of units involving artillery batteries, assault helicopters and at least 10,000 soldiers.
The operations confirmed, at least in part, assertions by Ukrainian leaders on Wednesday that Russia was massing forces, as well as amateur photographs that appeared to show columns of armored vehicles and trucks in a border village called Lopan, only 30 miles from the Ukrainian city Kharkiv. One statement announced that another 1,500 paratroopers from Ivanovo, east of Moscow, had parachuted onto a military base in Rostov, not far from the Ukrainian cities Donetsk and Lugansk.
With NATO announcing its own deployments of fighter jets and exercises to countries on Ukraine’s western border, the crisis appeared to be worsening despite 11th-hour diplomatic efforts to halt a secession referendum scheduled for Sunday in Crimea. The ouster of the government of Viktor F. Yanukovych and Russia’s subsequent intervention in Crimea has deeply divided Russia and the West, and in Berlin, Ms. Merkel underscored the potential risks of what is being called the worst crisis in relations since the end of the Soviet Union.
Appearing before Parliament on Thursday, Ms. Merkel criticized Russia’s actions in some of her toughest language to date, declaring that “the territorial integrity of Ukraine cannot be called into question.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, if Russia continues on its course of the past weeks, it will not only be a catastrophe for Ukraine,” she said. “We, also as neighbors of Russia, would not only see it as a threat. And it would not only change the European Union’s relationship with Russia. No, this would also cause massive damage to Russia, economically and politically.”
As Russia’s largest trading partner in Europe, Germany is certain to have significant influence on the debate over how to respond to Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Some politicians and observers in other European countries and in the United States have suggested that Germany’s traditionally close trading and other ties with Russia have made it hesitant to adopt sanctions against Russia.
Ms. Merkel’s speech, however, suggested that President Vladimir V. Putin might have miscalculated the anger the occupation and annexation of Crimea would cause – or that he might be impervious to it.
13 March 2014
Russian exercises are drifting closer to Ukraine and drawing more scrutiny.
Posted by Brant at 18:06