Russia Says ‘No Plans’ to Intervene in Ukraine as Troops Mass
(Bloomberg) -- Russia isn’t planning to intervene militarily in Ukraine, according to a top security official, even as a major troop build-up on the border and large-scale exercises have raised alarm.
“We don’t have such plans,” Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev said, asked if there are any red lines that would prompt Russia to get directly involved in the Ukrainian conflict in an interview with Kommersant newspaper published on Wednesday. “But we are carefully monitoring the situation and depending on how it develops, we will take concrete steps.”
Ukraine is appealing for Western support amid an increase in cease-fire violations and deaths in the Moscow-backed separatist regions in the country’s southeast. Russia has also built up its forces along their shared border, raising fears of an escalation in the seven-year conflict that has claimed 13,000 lives. Russia denies it’s threatening Ukraine and accuses the government in Kyiv of preparing a military offensive to regain control of the eastern conflict zone.
Russia on Tuesday announced the start of more than 4,000 training exercises in military districts nationwide, further stoking concerns about the risk of renewed fighting. Since fighting broke out in 2014, the Kremlin has repeatedly denied it was intervening even as Kyiv and its western allies said they had clear proof Russian forces were involved.
The latest troop reinforcements in the annexed Crimea peninsula and along southern Russia’s border with Ukraine represent the largest concentration of military forces in the area since 2015, according to the Conflict Intelligence Team, a Moscow-based research group that monitors Russian defense activities. The Kremlin described the moves as routine.
The ruble dropped sharply against the dollar Tuesday on fears the conflict could worsen, but recovered some of its losses Wednesday.
Patrushev, a longtime ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin who is known for his hardline views, said Russia “really doesn’t want” to risk a return to full-scale war in Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Tuesday reiterated his country’s desire to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to protect itself against Russia, calling membership “the only way to end the war” in eastern Ukraine in a phone call with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. The NATO chief was non-committal in a tweet later, saying the alliance remained “committed to our close partnership” with Ukraine.
The U.S. State Department signaled its concerns about Russian troop movements this week, with spokesman Ned Price saying Monday that “we are concerned by recent escalating Russian aggressions in eastern Ukraine, including the credible reports that have been emanating about Russian troop movements on Ukraine’s borders and occupied Crimea.”
Zelenskiy said Tuesday 10 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed in the eastern zone since March 26. The U.S. and the European Union have sanctioned Russia for its 2014 annexation of Crimea and support of separatists in Ukraine’s Donbas region.
The Russian troop build-up is “muscle-flexing” to try and pressure Ukraine over the implementation of a stalled 2015 peace agreement, said Alexei Chesnakov, a former senior Kremlin official and adviser on Ukraine policy. “Russia is sending a signal that it’s ready for any developments, including the toughest military scenarios.”
At the same time, “no one is interested to see military actions,” Chesnakov said by phone. “For Russia it’s clear it wouldn’t be in its interests and would be very risky to engage in direct military assistance to Donbas.”
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