Ukraine’s foreign minister informed several European Union foreign ministers that Russia deployed more than 150,000 troops to Ukraine’s border and the Russian-annexed Crimea, according to an April 18 statement from top EU diplomat Joseph Borrell.
“It is more than 150,000 Russian troops massing on the Ukrainian borders and in Crimea,” Borrell said. “The risk of further escalation is evident.” He did not provide a source for these figures, though his office later amended the number of troops to “more than 100,000” and did not issue a reason for the change.
There are no new sanctions, economic or otherwise, planned for Russia—nor any further diplomatic expulsions in retaliation. However, Borrell stated the Russian military’s increase of forces at the Ukrainian border is the largest ever.
In the United States, the Pentagon stated the Russian military build-up was bigger than in 2014 when Russia amassed troops before invading the Ukrainian territory of Crimea.
“In general, we have continued to see this buildup increase,” said Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby on April 19. “We certainly heard the Russians proclaim that this is all about training. It’s not completely clear to us that that’s exactly the purpose.”
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba requested that the EU levy new sanctions on Russia. Tensions between the Ukrainian and Russian governments are increasing amid both the Russian military’s surge and ongoing conflicts in eastern Ukraine between the army and pro-Russian separatists.
Russia is issuing “last-minute military exercises near commercial shipping lanes in the Black Sea,” which threaten to stifle Ukraine’s economy, according to internal documents from Ukraine’s ministry of defense, reviewed by Axios.
The U.S. further conveyed a “deep concern” regarding Russia’s campaign to stop foreign naval ships in segments of the Black Sea, according to a statement from State Department employee Ned Price.
“This represents yet another unprovoked escalation in Moscow’s ongoing campaign to undermine and destabilize Ukraine,” Price stated.
The leaked document indicates that Russian services are intensifying their presence on every side of the Ukrainian border with “units that boast a vast array of capabilities, including many that suggest more sinister intentions than a simple show of force,” according to Axios.
The document infers that Russia’s intentions may be to distract from domestic issues in anticipation of their legislative elections in September. The military actions were also said to be an attempt to detract from NATO exercises and force Ukraine into reversing its “positive political developments.”
Russia secured its naval presence in the Black Sea and provided two warships. Those warships traversed the Bosporus, the world’s narrowest strait, last April 17, accompanied by 15 smaller vessels. All this took place during strained Russia-Ukraine relations regarding troop increases at the border near Crimea.
The Russian warships that went through the Bosporus are “Ropucha-class landing ships” from Russia’s Northern Fleet, according to reports. The ships can carry tanks and troops, which could potentially be used for a “coastal assault.”
Moscow has called the huge troop buildup a “temporary defensive exercise.”
“We don’t want to burn bridges, but if somebody interprets our good intentions as weakness, our reaction will be asymmetrical, rapid and harsh,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said. “We’ll decide for ourselves in each case where the red line is. The organisers of any provocations against Russia will regret [their actions] in a way they never have before.”
The warning was issued in Russia’s annual state of the nation address, during the elevated tensions with the U.S. regarding Ukraine and the imprisoned Putin critic Alexei Navalny. Putin said NATO countries were continuously attempting to “pick on” Russia. Security forces have incarcerated around 100 Navalny factions rallying in dozens of cities.
The U.S., since President Joe Biden’s election, has acknowledged Russia’s antagonistic behavior towards the democratic west.
The U.S. intelligence community has produced new material regarding Konstantin Kilimnik, a convicted Russian agent, and the associate of ex-Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, confirming internal Trump campaign polling and strategy content was passed to Russian intelligence services, according to two U.S. officials.
On April 22, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Kilimnik and for the first time stated he provided the information to Russian intelligence services.
Russia’s Defense Ministry issued a “partial pullback of troops” from the border with Ukraine on Thursday, according to a New York Times report.
The Russian defense minister, Sergei K. Shoigu, who initially named the increase in troops a “test of the Russian military’s readiness,” said that the units installed at the Ukrainian border had displayed their competences and should now regress to their normative stations.
“I believe that the goals of the snap inspection have been fully achieved,” Shoigu said. “The troops demonstrated the ability to reliably defend the country.”
However, the order indicated that forces leaving the camp an estimated 100 miles from the border with the eastern Ukrainian region known as Donbas would not depart the armored vehicles until next fall.
“The reduction of troops on our border proportionally reduces tension,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky wrote on Twitter. “[Ukraine] is always vigilant, yet welcomes any steps to decrease the military presence & deescalate the situation in Donbas. Ukraine seeks peace.”