Ukraine conducted fresh military exercises outside the capital, Kiev, on Monday as thousands of Russian troops remain massed along the border between the two countries — and the head of Ukraine’s defense intelligence agency warned an invasion could come early next year.
The drills involved airborne troops and armored personnel carriers and simulated an attack on an enemy target, Ukraine’s defense ministry said Monday. The ministry’s statement was accompanied by footage showing the landing of troops supported by helicopters and other aircraft.
Over the weekend, Ukrainian Brig. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov told Military Times that more than 92,000 Russian troops have gathered in the area of the border and are prepping to attack by the end of January or the beginning of February.
An assault would involve airstrikes and artillery bombardments followed by airborne operations in the east, amphibious assaults targeting the city of Odessa and a smaller troop advance through Russia’s ally Belarus, Budanov predicted.
Budanov, who was appointed chief of the defense intelligence of Ukraine in August last year, told Military Times a Russian attack would open a new chapter in the ongoing conflict that began with the removal of Ukraine’s pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014. In retaliation, Moscow illegally annexed the province of Crimea, setting off a war that has killed more than 14,000 people.
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, talked with Lt. Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, commander of Ukraine’s armed forces, on Friday to discuss Russia’s “concerning activity in the area,” according to a US readout of the call.
“The Chairman stressed the need for continued consultation amongst regional allies and partners, and reaffirmed U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the statement said.
American intelligence officials have raised alarms among allies that Russia is readying for an invasion and called on other European nations to work with the US to come up with economic and military measures to obstruct the Kremlin, the New York Times reported last week.
US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines met last week with top officials from NATO and the Polish government to share intelligence about a possible incursion, according to the outlet.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday rejected claims that an invasion was being prepared, saying they were part of an American media misinformation campaign against Moscow.
”This is whipping up tension and is another attempt to present Russia as the one threatening the process of settling the situation (in eastern Ukraine),” he said.
“And of course we cannot rule out that this is cover for aggressive dreams that Kiev may have. I mean aggressive dreams about a possible desire to solve the problem in the southeast by force,” Peskov added.
The Moscow mouthpiece also said Ukraine is bolstering its forces and being provided arms, including high-tech weapons, by a number of countries that are increasing already volatile tensions in the region.
“Of course, the number of provocations is growing and growing significantly,” Peskov said. “What’s more, these provocations are being carried out with weapons being supplied by NATO countries.”
Russia has long opposed Ukraine joining the trans-Atlantic alliance.
The US has been giving Ukraine military support for years, and the Department of Defense in June announced plans to provide $250 million for training and equipment to bolster the country’s ability to defend its borders against Russia.
With Post wires