Russia has built up a 20,000-man force of combat-ready troops on Ukraine’s eastern border, NATO warned Wednesday, and could use the force to stage a ground invasion.
The troop presence includes tanks, infantry, artillery, air defense systems, as well as logistics troops, special forces, and various aircraft, Reuters reports.
“We’re not going to guess what’s on Russia’s mind, but we can see what Russia is doing on the ground – and that is of great concern,” NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said in an emailed statement to Reuters. NATO is concerned that Russia could use “the pretext of a humanitarian or peace-keeping mission as an excuse to send troops into Eastern Ukraine,” Lungescu said.
Earlier this year, Russia amassed a force of some 40,000 troops close to the Ukraine border but had reduced that force to less than 1,000. The Kremlin is now growing the number of troops again, as Ukrainian troops engage with separatist forces in cities to the east of the country.
The shooting down of a Malaysia Airlines jet in eastern Ukraine in July, allegedly by Russia-backed separatists, sparked a new round of international sanctions against Russia. The European Union and the United States agreed to a further round of sanctions against the country last week over its actions in Ukraine.