BRUSSELS, ($1=0.88 Euros) – Since the end of Exercise Zapad 21, held last September in Belarus, “unusual” movements of Russian troops have been regularly observed near Ukraine. In addition, in Donbas, where Ukrainian forces face pro-Russian separatists, the fighting has intensified in recent months.
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“Despite the sanctions and the great concern of Western countries, Russia has almost achieved the strategic encirclement of Ukraine, including from Belarus, and continues to prepare offensive actions on Ukrainian territory”, recently explained Roman Mashovets, Deputy Chief of Staff of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in charge of national security and defense.
In an interview published on November 21 by Military Times, Ukrainian intelligence chief General Kyrylo Budanov said that Russia has reinforced its troops in Crimea and set up “Iskander short-range ballistic missile systems” in other places near the border. And to estimate that Moscow would prepare to launch an attack on its country by next February.
“Such an attack would likely involve airstrikes and artillery fire, followed by airborne assaults in the east, amphibious assaults in Odesa and Mariupol, and a smaller incursion through neighboring Belarus,” described General Budanov, according to whom American intelligence largely shares the analysis of his services.
The next day, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that “any movement of Russian troops within the limits of our territory poses no threat to anyone and should not worry anyone”. However, he also accused Ukraine of engaging in “increasing provocations”, including using “weapons supplied by NATO countries” in the Donbas. Indeed, the Ukrainian forces recently engaged one of their Bayraktar TB-2 drones delivered by Turkey there and, a priori fired Javelin anti-tank missiles provided by the United States.
But on the subject of “provocations”, the head of American diplomacy, Antony Blinken, argues on several occasions that Russia has the habit of invoking them to “justify the execution of what it had since planned the beginning”.
Anyway, the tension continues to increase. In recent days, Russian forces have carried out an exercise in the Black Sea, to prepare to “repel air attacks against naval bases and respond to them”.
At the same time, their Ukrainian counterparts followed suit, with Su-24M and Su-25 fighter-bombers practicing hitting “air and surface targets as if they were in the Black Sea.”
It is therefore in this context that NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has issued a new warning to Moscow. “We are very concerned about what is happening. Russia has, for the second time this year, concentrated heavy equipment, tanks, and combat-ready troops on Ukraine’s borders. It multiplies aggressive speeches and its intentions are not clear,” he said at a press conference on November 26 in Brussels.
“Russia has invaded Ukraine in the past with the annexation of Crimea and it supports the separatists in Dombass. It must be clear that if Russia uses force against Ukraine it will have consequences and it will have to pay the price,” Stoltenberg then warned, calling on Moscow “to avoid escalation”.
“The situation in Ukraine will be one of the main topics of the meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Riga, Latvia, on Tuesday and Wednesday,” said Stoltenberg, who did not specify the nature of the measures that the Allies could take to possibly come to the aid of Kyiv.
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