Russia has increased its military presence near Ukraine’s border as it tries to repeat the events that led up to Crimea’s incorporation into Russia in the east of the country, the governor of the Kharkiv region said.
Russian forces have been boosted in the last five days, massing along roadways about 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the border, said Ihor Baluta, appointed by the interim government in Kiev after the ouster of Viktor Yanukovych last month.
“They are concentrated along the highways, which implies they want to move quickly into our territory,” Baluta said in an interview in Ukraine’s second biggest city today. “Russia is trying to create the situation unfolding now in the south here in eastern regions.”
An expanded presence by Russian forces in the border region would be at odds with today’s pledge by President Vladimir Putin to oppose a further division of Ukraine after his decision to annex the southern region of Crimea. Putin has parliamentary approval to deploy troops in Ukraine to protect the rights of Russian-speakers and those of Russian heritage.
Military movements “will pump in separatism and that will bother us for a long time to come,” Baluta said.
Russia’s worst confrontation with the West since the Cold War over its incorporation of Crimea has stirred worries that Putin may try next to annex parts of eastern Ukraine where the Russophones make up a large part of the population.
Putin today blamed Western encroachment for forcing him to annex Crimea and denied plans to occupy eastern Ukraine. About a quarter of the region’s 3 million residents sympathize with a secessionist push, he said, Baluta said.
“Don’t believe those who scare you with Russia, who yell that Crimea will be followed by other regions,” Putin said in the speech at the Kremlin.
A Snapshot of Ukraine's Past and Future
Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on Dec. 19, Putin said any suggestion that Russia would use its armed forces in Crimea was “complete rubbish, nothing of the sort is possible.”
Russia has 21,900 soldiers in Crimea that are blocking Ukrainian troops on the Black Sea peninsula, Oleksandr Rozmaznin, a Ukrainian military official, told reporters today in the capital, Kiev. Russian warships are also blockading Ukraine’s fleet, with 17 Ukrainian state infrastructure sites now seized in Crimea, including 11 military buildings, he said.
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