BRUSSELS: Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Friday warned Russia that any attempt to invade Ukraine would have costs, as concern mounts about a Russian military build-up near its former Soviet neighbour’s borders.
Ukraine says Moscow kept about 90,000 troops near their common border following massive war games in western Russia earlier this year. The Ukrainian Defence Ministry said units of the Russian 41st army remain near Yelnya, about 260 kilometres north of the border.
Moscow denies that its planning any invasion and refuses to provide details about troop movements on its own territory.
If Russia uses force against Ukraine that will have costs, that would have consequences, Stoltenberg said, ahead of a meeting of the 30-nation military organisations foreign ministers in Latvia Nov 30-Dec. 1, where Russia’s activities will be high on the agenda. He did not say what those costs would be.
This is the second time this year that Russia has amassed a large and unusual concentration of forces in the region, Stoltenberg told reporters. He said it includes tanks, artillery, armoured units, drones, and electronic warfare systems, as well as combat-ready troops.
This military build-up is unprovoked and unexplained. It raises tensions and it risks miscalculations, Stoltenberg said. He conceded that there is no certainty about the intentions of Russia but said that this is a military build-up by a country that has invaded Ukraine before.
Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 after the country’s Moscow-friendly president was driven from power by mass protests. Weeks later, Russia threw its weight behind a separatist insurgency that broke out in Ukraine’s east.
Ukraine and the West accused Russia of sending its troops and weapons to back the rebels. Moscow denied that, saying that Russians who joined the separatists were volunteers. More than 14,000 people have died in the fighting that devastated Ukraines eastern industrial heartland known as Donbas.
A 2015 peace agreement brokered by France and Germany helped end large-scale battles, but efforts to reach a political settlement have failed and sporadic skirmishes have continued along the tense line of contact.
‘Very dangerous’ signals
In Kiev, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Friday that Russia was sending “very dangerous” signals with troop movements on the border, warning that his military was ready to push back any offensive.
He also claimed Kiev had uncovered a coup plot involving Russian citizens, but did not give full details.
His warning came as Western governments raise worries over Russian troop movements on Ukraine’s border, with Washington saying it has “real concerns” over the troop build-up.
“We believe that very dangerous rhetoric is coming out of Russia,” Zelensky told a wide-ranging press conference in Kiev.
“It is a signal that there could be escalation,” he said.
Zelensky said Ukraine was ready to take on Russia if Moscow decides to move troops across the border.
“There is a threat today that there will be war tomorrow,” he said, adding that Kiev’s “powerful” army was “entirely prepared”.
He called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to deny he was planning an invasion.
“The president of Russia should say in public: ‘We are not planning this’,” Zelensky said.
Published in Dawn, November 27th, 2021