Kiev, Ukraine (Associated Press)-The Minister of Defense of Ukraine estimated on Friday that Russia had assembled more than 94,000 soldiers near its border and said that a “mass escalation” could occur in late January.
Ukrainian and Western officials have recently warned Russia about the build-up of troops near Ukraine, saying they fear this may herald an invasion. Moscow denies the planned invasion and accuses Ukraine and its Western supporters of fabricating claims to cover up their alleged aggressive designs.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksi Reznikov told lawmakers on Friday that the number of Russian troops in Crimea near Ukraine and annexed by Russia is estimated at 94,300.
“Our intelligence agency will analyze all situations, including the worst. It pointed out that there is a possibility of a large-scale escalation on the Russian side. (Russia) is most likely to be ready for an escalation at the end of January,” Reze Nikov said.
The Minister pointed out that the escalation “is a possible situation, but not sure, our task is to avoid it.”
After Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula in 2014 and strongly supported the separatist rebellion in Donbass, the industrial heartland of eastern Ukraine, Russia and Ukraine have been in a tense tug of war. More than 14,000 people were killed in the fighting.
Repeated reports of Russia’s troop increase near Ukraine this year have raised concerns about the intensification of the conflict, and tensions have increased in recent weeks.
Russia this week exchanged new allegations and threats with Ukraine, the United States and its NATO allies. If the Kremlin launches an invasion of Ukraine, the West will threaten the Kremlin with the harshest sanctions to date.
Russia, seeing the new support for the Ukrainian military from the United States and Europe, severely warned that any presence of NATO troops and weapons on Ukrainian territory is a “red line.”
The Kremlin also expressed concern that Ukraine might use force to regain control of the country’s rebellious east.
Reznikov said Ukraine will not do anything to provoke Russia, but is prepared to respond in the event of an attack.
“Ukraine is most interested in political and diplomatic solutions,” said the defense minister.
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