Russia has accused the west of building up forces on its borders as well as those of Belarus in remarks that appeared tailored to mirror recent US warnings about Moscow’s aggressive positioning towards Ucraina.
The Kremlin, as well as Russian intelligence, security, and diplomatic officials, have all gone on the offensive in the past 48 hours after Vladimir Putin publicly instructed his diplomats that tensions should be maintained with the west as a form of aggressive deterrence.
US and Ukrainian officials have said that Russia has amassed nearly 100,000 troops in the border regions near Ukraine and warned it was seeking a pretext in order to justify a major intervention in the country.
In a public statement on Monday, Russia’s foreign intelligence service announced that the situation was similar to that with Georgia in 2008, where Russia fought a short war against the government of Mikheil Saakashvili.
“The provocative policy of the United States and the European Union, which has deliberately strengthened Kyiv’s sense of permissiveness and impunity, causes extreme concern,” the agency wrote in the statement.
Also on Monday, the deputy head of Russia’s security council accused Nato members of increasing military activity in Black Sea, eastern Europe, and Arctic regions. Alexander Grebenkin, the body’s deputy secretary, said that the probability of a border incident was “not decreasing”.
A foreign ministry spokeswoman complained about recent joint US-Estonian military airborne exercise, while a Kremlin spokesman pointed to US weapons provided to Kyiv.
Russia has denied that it is planning to launch an attack. But Putin has admitted that raising tensions in eastern Europe serves Russia’s interests.
“Relative tension has actually developed there,” Putin said while addressing Russian diplomats last week. “Firstly, it is necessary that they keep in this kind of state as long as possible, that they don’t even think to cause any kind of conflict we don’t want to see on our western frontiers, and we don’t need any conflicts.”
US officials have said that they do not know whether Putin is planning to launch a larger invasion of Ukraine but that the country has been methodically moving the needed elements for an offensive operation toward Russia’s western borders since a massive buildup in April.
Russia has sent men, money and weapons to fight in Ukraine since 2014, annexing the Crimean peninsula and sparking a war in the Donbass region that has left more than 14,000 dead.
In an interview with the Military Times, the head of Ukraine’s defence intelligence agency said Russia had amassed more than 92,000 troops around Ukraine’s borders and was preparing for an attack by the end of January or beginning of February.
A slide published by the outlet showed that Russia had 40 battalion tactical groups, or BTGs, stationed near the border with Ukraine. That number was lower than an earlier buildup in April of this year, when Russia had an estimated 53 BTGs, consisting of 105,000 troops, in the border region.