“Russia’s destabilizing actions undermine the de-escalation intentions that had been achieved through [last year’s agreement],” chief Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday. “Additionally, we are aware of Ukrainian military reports concerning Russian troop movements on Ukraine’s borders.”
The Pentagon had grown increasingly concerned after military intelligence reports assessed that some 4,000 heavily armed Russian forces had been observed moving in Crimea, according to a US defense official. “It was not totally clear what they were up to,” the official said, adding that the US now believes on further assessment it may have been part of a Russian military exercise. Part of that assessment was based on calls with Ukrainian officials who also viewed the Russian activity as an exercise.
If so, the movement of so many Russian military personnel was a large exercise and may be a deliberate message from the Kremlin to the Biden administration about Russia’s strength in the region and its ability to challenge US allies, the official said.
Russia blamed Ukraine for renewed fighting in eastern Ukraine. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said this week that Russia was concerned about “Ukraine’s provocations,” but he said he hoped it would not escalate to fighting.
But Ukraine warned of a series of Russian violations of the ceasefire, including two incidents of mortar fire and large-caliber machine gun fire that led to the death of the four Ukrainian soldiers last Friday. On Tuesday, Ukraine accused Russia of violating the ceasefire seven times, prompting the country’s parliament to call for an increase in political and economic pressure on Moscow.