American officials are worried that 50,000 Russian troops being massed near the Ukraine border and within Crimea, the pro-Russian peninsula recently annexed by President Vladimir Putin, aren’t there for just a training exercise
Despite Russian reassurances that Moscow’s troop buildup along Ukraine’s eastern frontier is for a military exercise, its growing scale is making U.S. officials nervous about its ultimate aim.
President Barack Obama on Friday urged Russia to stop “intimidating” Ukraine and to pull its troops back to “de-escalate the situation.” He told CBS that the troop buildup may “be an effort to intimidate Ukraine, or it may be that [Russia has] additional plans.”
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Pentagon officials say they believe there could be close to 50,000 Russian troops bordering the former Soviet republic and inside Crimea, recently seized and annexed by Moscow. That estimate is double earlier assessments, and means Russian President Vladimir Putin could order a lighting strike into Ukrainian territory with the forces already in place. The higher troop count was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
“We continue to see the Russian military reinforce units on their side of the border with Ukraine to the south and to the east of Ukraine,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said Thursday. “They continue to reinforce and it continues to be unclear exactly what the intent there is.”