Russian military forces are massing near Ukraine’s eastern borders, increasing fears that Moscow is planning a larger military incursion into the former Soviet republic.
Photographs of Russian tanks were posted on Facebook Thursday revealing one tank column near the town of Sudzha, Russia—within five miles of the border with Ukraine.
In Kiev, the Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that Russian military forces were staging troops on the Ukrainian-Russian border and are continuing to expand military forces in the southern Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, which Moscow is attempting to take over.
Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Yevgeniy Perebiynis told reporters that the massing of Russian troops in the northeastern and north central border regions at a briefing on Wednesday.
According to Russia’s Interfax news agency, some 50 Ukrainian border service facilities have been blockaded or seized by Russian troops.
Andriy Parubiy, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, told Ukrainian television that Russian forces are “two to three hours away from Kiev.”
The forces include over 80,000 troops, up to 270 tanks, and up to 180 armored personnel carriers. Also, the forces include about 380 artillery pieces, 18 multiple-rocket launcher systems and 140 combat aircraft and 90 helicopters. Russian naval forces arrayed against Ukraine include 19 warships and cutters.
In Moscow, the Russian Defense Ministry press service issued a statement saying armed forces were stepping up field exercises at training sites in the Belgorod, Tambov, and Kursk regions—all within range of Ukraine.
The increased exercises will continue through the end of March.
The mobilization of the troops is an indication Moscow may be planning an invasion of eastern Ukraine.
Ukrainian military forces also have begun conducting exercises in the Mykolayiv region, northwest of Crimea.
Those exercises will include aircraft, airborne troops, tanks, and communications personnel.
“The tasks, which are faced by servicemen at this exercise, are well known to Ukrainian armed forces personnel,” Yaroslav Cherpurny told Ukrainian television.
“The servicemen have been successfully fulfilling them during constant training. And so it happened that a need to perfect some of the skills has emerged now.”
Meanwhile, the Crimean parliament continued preparations for an upcoming referendum to nationalize Ukrainian businesses, energy, and military facilities in the Crimea.
Ukrainian official denounced the planned vote.
Russia on Wednesday allowed Ukraine to conduct a surveillance flight amid the heightened tensions on the Ukrainian-Russian border.
In a related development, the former Soviet republic of Belarus, a close Russian ally, announced that it would permit Russia to deploy an additional 15 warplanes on its territory in response to recent NATO exercises near its borders.