Irish Daily Mail

PUTIN READY TO ROLL

Ukraine’s terror of invasion – and even nuclear threat – as Russian forces mass on border and start live firing drill

- By Mark Nicol news@dailymail.ie

UKRAINE fears more than 100,000 Russian troops will be in place on its borders, ready to invade, by the end of the month.

A Ukrainian government report, obtained by the Daily Mail, estimates the Kremlin will deploy up to 30,000 extra soldiers, accompanie­d by more tanks and rocket systems, in support of 80,000 Russian troops already awaiting orders to advance.

The figures are based on intelligen­ce intercepts and satellite photograph­s as troops and equipment travel hundreds of miles across Russia to amass around its neighbour.

Moscow has claimed it has no plans to invade and is merely carrying out military exercises, but Kiev also worries the Kremlin could deploy nuclear missiles to Crimea, the peninsula Russia forcibly annexed in 2014, Ukraine’s defence minister said yesterday.

Andrii Taran, speaking before an emergency Nato meeting with allied defence and foreign ministers, said he could not rule out Russian forces in Crimea ‘undertakin­g substantiv­e military provocatio­ns’ soon.

‘Crimea’s infrastruc­ture is being prepared for potentiall­y storing nuclear weapons,’ Mr Taran told the European Parliament’s

‘Provocativ­e action’

defence subcommitt­ee. ‘The very presence of nuclear munitions in the peninsula may spark a whole array of complex political, legal and moral problems.’

But Vladimir Putin was hiding nothing yesterday with a livefiring drill in the Black Sea – just days before two US destroyers are expected to sail into the same waters. Russian state TV showed two missile ships, the Graivoron and the Vyshny Volochek, taking part in sea-level and aerial target practice alongside a missile hovercraft, a frigate and a minesweepi­ng ship.

The drill, described as a ‘combat readiness check’ by Russian officials, comes before the USS Donald Cook and the USS Roosevelt are expected to arrive, despite Russian warnings for them to stay away ‘for their own good’.

The Graivoron and Vyshny Volochek are Buyan-M class missile corvettes and are armed with 100mm naval guns, anti-ship cruise missile launchers, anti-air cruise missile launchers and antisubmar­ine hardware. Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said there was a risk of ‘incidents’ between the US and Russian vessels. He added: ‘There is absolutely nothing for American ships to be doing near our shores, this is purely a provocativ­e action. If there is any aggravatio­n, we will do everything to ensure our security and safety. But Kiev and its allies in the West will be entirely responsibl­e for the consequenc­es.’

Ukraine staged its own exercise, with troops rehearsing repelling a tank and infantry attack near the border with Crimea.

The report seen by the Mail, from the Ukrainian defence ministry and entitled ‘RUS troops massing around UKR’, says: ‘By the end of April 2021, Russians are going to deploy up to 26 BTGs (Battalion Tactical Groups), several artillery tactical groups, air defence units, reconnaiss­ance units and 4 Special Operations Forces detachment­s.

‘The total amount estimated to be 54 BTGs, up to 107,000 troops, up to 1,300 tanks, 3,700 armoured vehicles, up to 1,300 artillery systems and mortars and up to 380 multi-launch rocket systems.’

Dr Nigel Gould-Davies, of the Internatio­nal Institute for Strategic Studies, said last night: ‘The gravity of opinion among those closely following developmen­ts has shifted noticeably.

‘They are more alarmed, due to the scale of the Russian military presence, the distances the troops and equipment are travelling towards eastern Ukraine and the statements issued by Russian government officials.

‘While this does not mean there will be all-out war, we are much closer to conflict than we have been. We could be looking at both a show of strength by the Kremlin and genuine steps towards military action – it does not have to be one or the other.’

German defence minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbaue­r accused Russia of seeking provocatio­n in a bid to justify the advance of so many troops towards Ukraine.

She warned Moscow that the world would not be ‘drawn into Russia’s game’, adding: ‘If it is a manoeuvre like the Russian side says, there are internatio­nal procedures through which one can create transparen­cy and trust.

‘We are committed to Ukraine, that is very clear. It is clear that Moscow is just waiting for a move, so to speak, from Nato, to have a pretext to continue its actions. But together with Ukraine, we will not be drawn into this game. And so far Ukraine has reacted in a sober manner.’

‘Steps towards military action’

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