Merkel Says Russia Troops Making ‘Extremely Tense’ Situation
(Bloomberg) -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed concern at continued Russian troop deployments around Ukraine that the European Union estimates at 100,000, while the government in Kyiv appealed for sanctions to be tightened on its neighbor.
The situation is “extremely tense and very worrying as a result of the concentration of forces on the Russian side of the Ukrainian border,” Merkel told a virtual Council of Europe event Tuesday. The U.S. Pentagon said Monday that the buildup exceeds the one that preceded Russia’s 2014 military intervention.
Tensions between Kyiv and Moscow have spiraled in recent weeks after Russia began military drills and cease-fire violations jumped in the conflict that began when Vladimir Putin seized Crimea from Ukraine seven years ago.
Russia wants more autonomy for the breakaway Donbas region, where Russian-speakers dominate. That could derail Ukrainian plans to join the EU and NATO -- goals that are backed by the majority of its 42 million population.
The Kremlin accuses its neighbor of planning an offensive to regain control of Donbas -- a claim Ukraine denies. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Tuesday that the situation in the region is being complicated by the actions of NATO and Western nations on Russia’s southern and western borders.
The fear in the region is a resumption of large-scale fighting that mostly ended after a 2015 peace accord. More than 13,000 people have died since the war first erupted. NATO, the U.S. and the EU have all urged Russia to de-escalate.
Ukraine said Tuesday that Russia is gathering troops on its border from multiple directions, calling the deployments “alarming.”
Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told Bloomberg Television he isn’t disappointed that the EU has yet to hit the Kremlin with new penalties. But he said he’d prefer measures to prevent Russian escalation rather than mitigate it if it takes place.
The best way to prevent aggression is “to send a very clear message to Russia by launching a discussion on a new round of sanctions,” Kuleba said.
He reiterated that Ukraine wants a path to NATO membership, though the absence of broad Western backing means joining remains a distant prospect.
Russia, meanwhile, held military exercises in the nearby Black Sea -- the latest venue for confrontation between the two former Soviet allies and the scene of another flashpoint in 2018, when a Ukrainian navy vessel and its crew were seized.
Russia said the training maneuvers, involving more than 20 naval ships and warplanes, were scheduled. But Ukraine complained last week of impromptu shipping restrictions in the area.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.