Washington (AFP) – Nearly 100,000 Russian forces have massed on Ukraine’s border, a top Ukrainian defense official told an American audience Thursday, giving a number far higher than US military estimates.
“Almost 100,000 soldiers are stationed on the borders of Ukraine and in the direction … of Kharkiv, Donetsk, ” Andriy Parubiy, chairman of Ukraine’s national security council, said via a webcast from Kiev.
“Russian troops are not in Crimea only, they are along all Ukrainian borders. They’re in the south, they’re in the east and in the north,” Parubiy said.
After its intervention in the Crimean peninsula, Russia is plotting to foment separatist sentiment elsewhere and Kiev fears a possible incursion in the country’s east, he told the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank.
Parubiy said any day “we might see a huge attack on the territory of continental Ukraine and we are getting ready for it.” Although US defense officials have put the number of Russian troops closer to 20,000, a US lawmaker said Thursday that much stronger Russian forces had deployed towards Ukraine’s border.
“Over the past week we’ve seen the buildup of up to 80,000 additional Russian troops,” Representative Mike Turner said in a statement.
Turner said the force included large numbers of armored vehicles, battle tanks, artillery, helicopters and planes. The Republican lawmaker accused the White House of withholding “critical” information about the full scope of Russian troop movements and demanded the administration reveal what it knows to help “vulnerable allies.”
Pentagon officials previously have said more than 20,000 Russian troops — including airborne units and armored vehicles — have deployed along Ukraine’s border, a force big enough to seize control of the eastern region. source – Yahoo News
Crimea, Ukraine – In its invasion and annexation of Crimea, Russia has seized 51 vessels belonging to the Ukrainian navy, according to information compiled by Dmitry Tymchuk, director of the Center of Military and Political Research in Kyiv.
Among the Ukrainian vessels reportedly captured by the Russians are submarine Zaporizhia, management ship Slavutych, landing ship Konstantin Olshansky, landing ship Kirovohrad, minesweeper Chernihiv and minesweeper Cherkasy.
The Cherkasy was the last of the ships to have been overtaken following weeks of threats and ultimatums to surrender. It was finally chased down and overtaken by the Russian navy on March 25 after failing to slip past a blockade of two ships intentionally sunk by the Russians to trap it and other vessels in a narrow gulf, keeping them from escaping into the Black Sea.
As of March 26, just 10 Ukrainian vessels remained in its navy’s possession, including frigate Hetman Sahaydachniy, gunboat Skadovsk, intelligence ship Pereyaslav and diving vessel Netishin. source – Kyiv Post
Obama has been relentless in his quest to slash the US Military budget, and it is now paying dividends for our enemies. As the United States has lost its foothold in Latin America, Russia, China and Iran have stepped in to fill that void. The balance of power in the world is going through a major shift right now as America begins to take a back seat.
The Hill: Away from the conflict in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin is quietly seeking a foothold in Latin America, military officials warn. To the alarm of lawmakers and Pentagon officials, Putin has begun sending navy ships and long-range bombers to the region for the first time in years.
Russia’s defense minister says the country is planning bases in Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, and just last week, Putin’s national security team met to discuss increasing military ties in the region.
“They’re on the march,” Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) said at a Senate hearing earlier this month. “They’re working the scenes where we can’t work. And they’re doing a pretty good job.”
Gen. James Kelly, commander of U.S. Southern Command said there has been a “noticeable uptick in Russian power projection and security force personnel” in Latin America.
“It has been over three decades since we last saw this type of high-profile Russian military presence,” Kelly said at the March 13 hearing.
The U.S. military says it has been forced to cut back on its engagement with military and government officials in Latin America due to budget cuts. Kelly said the U.S. military had to cancel more than 200 effective engagement activities and multi-lateral exercises in Latin America last year. With the American presence waning, officials say rivals such as Russia, China and Iran are quickly filling the void. source – The Hill
BELBEK AIRBASE, Crimea, March 22 (Reuters) – Russian troops forced their way into a Ukrainian airbase in Crimea with armored vehicles, automatic fire and stun grenades on Saturday, injuring a Ukrainian serviceman and detaining the base’s commander for talks.
A Reuters reporter said armored vehicles smashed through one of walls of the compound and that he heard bursts of gunfire and grenades.
Colonel Yuliy Mamchur, the commander of the base, said a Ukrainian serviceman had been injured and that he himself he was being taken away by the Russians for talks at an unspecified location.
Asked if he thought he would return safely, he said: “That remains to be seen. For now we are placing all our weapons in the base’s storage.”
Belbek was one of the last military facilities in Crimea still under Ukrainian control following Russia’s armed takeover and subsequent annexation of the peninsula, which has a majority ethnic Russian population and is home to one of Russia’s biggest naval bases.
Earlier, the deputy commander of the base, Oleg Podovalov, said the Russian forces surrounding the base had given the Ukrainians an hour to surrender.
After the Russians entered, a Ukrainian officer who identified himself only as Vladislav said: “We did not provoke this, this was brute force. I do not know whether this base will be formally in Russian hands by the end of the day. source – Huffington Post
DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — More than 5,000 pro-Russia residents of a major city in Ukraine’s east demonstrated on Saturday in favor of holding a referendum on whether to seek to split off and become part of Russia.
The rally in Donetsk came less than a week after the Ukrainian region of Crimea approved secession in a referendum regarded as illegitimate by the Western countries. After the referendum, Russia moved to formally annex Crimea.
With Crimea now effectively under the control of Russian forces, which ring Ukrainian military bases on the strategic Black Sea peninsula, concern is rising that Ukraine’s eastern regions will agitate for a similar move.
Russia has brought large military contingents to areas near the border with eastern Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said there is no intention to move into eastern Ukraine, but the prospect of violence between pro- and anti-secession groups in the east could be used as a pretext for sending in troops.
Eastern Ukraine is the heartland of Ukraine’s economically vital heavy industry and mining and the support base for Viktor Yanukovych, the Ukrainian president who fled to Russia last month after being ousted in the wake of three months of protests in the capital, Kiev.
Russia and Yanukovych supporters contend Yanukovych’s ouster was a coup and allege that the authorities who then came to power are nationalists who would oppress the east’s large ethnic Russian population.
“They’re trying to tear us away from Russia,” said demonstrator Igor Shapoval, a 59-year-old businessman. “But Donbass is ready to fight against this band which already lost Crimea and is losing in the east.”
Donbass is the name for the region of factories and mines that includes Donetsk. The demonstrators erected about several tents, an ironic echo of the massive tent camp that was established on Kiev’s central square after the protests against Yanukovych broke out in late November.
“I’m ready to live in a tent, but I’m not ready to submit to the West, to dance to their tune,” said Viktor Rudko, a 43-year-old miner.
The local parliament on Friday formed a working group to develop a referendum analogous to the one in Crimea. Activists on Saturday passed out mock ballots, although no referendum has been formally called. source – Yahoo News
Israel has two options. They can either a). conduct a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities and at the very least set the timeline back a few years. Or b). they can prepare to be attacked by the nuclear bomb that Obama’s stalling has allowed Iran time and space to build.
Jerusalem, Israel – A rising chorus of Israeli voices is again raising the possibility of carrying out a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities in what appears to be an attempt to draw renewed attention to Tehran’s atomic program — and Israel’s unhappiness with international negotiations with the Iranians
A front-page headline in the daily Haaretz on Thursday proclaimed that Netanyahu has ordered “to prep for strike on Iran in 2014″ and has allocated 10 billion shekels (2.87 billion dollars) for the groundwork. Earlier this week, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon hinted that Israel would have to pursue a military strike on its own, with the US having chosen the path of negotiations. And the military chief, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, said this week that Iran “is not in an area that is out of the military’s range.”
Yoel Gozansky, an Iran expert at the Institute of National Security Studies, a Tel Aviv think tank, said the comments were meant as a wake-up call to the world.
“The world was in a coma. It has awoken suddenly,” he said of the military-option talk. “Someone has an agenda to bring up this subject again, which has dropped off the agenda in recent months, especially after the deal with Iran.”
Israel believes that Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon, a charge Iran denies. Israel says a nuclear-armed Iran would pose an existential threat to the Jewish state, citing Iranian calls for Israel’s destruction, its development of long-range missiles and its support for hostile militant groups. source – Times Of Israel
The U.S. will not take military action in the Ukraine crisis, President Barack Obama told NBC 7 San Diego Wednesday
“We are not going to be getting into military excursion in Ukraine. What we are going to do is mobilize all of our diplomatic resources to make sure that we’ve got a strong international correlation that sends a clear message,” President Obama said.
Some foreign policy experts had said that limited military assistance was one of the items left in President Obama’s toolbox along with tougher sanctions and other forms of economic pressure.
As for Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Obama said, “His strategic decisions are no way based on whether he thought that we might go to war over this.”
“I think there’s a clear understanding that when it comes to our core interests or our NATO allies we can protect ourselves,” he said. Meanwhile, officials in the Ukraine were preparing to withdraw troops and their families from the Russia-occupied region of Crimea Wednesday.
President Obama’s statement on the possiblity of military intervention was part of an interview Wednesday with NBC 7’s Mark Mullen who had traveled to Washington, D.C. to talk with the president. They discussed other issues ranging from military cuts and the impact in San Diego to the idea of raising the minimum wage. source – NBC San Diego