Ukraine: Rus­sian forces build­ing up at border

Lexington Herald-Leader (Sunday) - - News -

Rus­sia is build­ing up its land forces and weapons along the border, Ukraine’s pres­i­dent said Sat­ur­day as Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel warned Rus­sia not to block Ukrainian ports in the Sea of Azov.

Ten­sions be­tween Rus­sia and Ukraine were still es­ca­lat­ing a week af­ter a naval clash in the Black Sea on Nov. 25 in which Rus­sia fired on three Ukrainian naval ships then seized them and their 24 crew mem­bers.

Speak­ing at a Ukrainian mil­i­tary event, Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko said Rus­sia has de­ployed “more than 80,000 troops, 1,400 ar­tillery and mul­ti­ple rocket launch sys­tems, 900 tanks, 2,300 ar­mored com­bat ve­hi­cles, 500 air­craft and 300 he­li­copters” along their com­mon border.

These num­bers, which have not been ver­i­fied, would ac­count for the vast ma­jor­ity of men and hard­ware as­signed to Rus­sia’s West­ern Mil­i­tary Dis­trict.

The naval clash came as the Ukrainian ships sailed to the Kerch Strait, the only wa­ter­way lead­ing into the Sea of Azov and the site of a new key Rus­sian bridge link­ing oc­cu­pied Crimea with the Rus­sian main­land.

Rus­sia ac­cused the Ukrainian ves­sels of vi­o­lat­ing Rus­sian ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters, a charge Ukraine has de­nied. Ukrainian of­fi­cials say Rus­sia has now im­posed a de facto block­ade on its two main ports in the Sea of Azov by al­low­ing only ships des­tined for Rus­sian ports through the strait.

Merkel crit­i­cized that Rus­sian move, speak­ing to re­porters Sat­ur­day on the side­lines of the

Group of 20 sum­mit in Buenos Aires af­ter hold­ing a bi­lat­eral meet­ing with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

“Free ship­ping into the Sea of Azov to the Ukrainian coast and har­bors must be en­sured” by Rus­sia, she said.

A 2003 Rus­sia-Ukraine agree­ment des­ig­nates the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait as shared in­ter­nal wa­ters. But fol­low­ing Rus­sia’s 2014 an­nex­a­tion of Crimea, Moscow has as­serted greater con­trol over the pas­sage.

“The Krem­lin is fur­ther test­ing the strength of the global or­der,” Poroshenko said Sat­ur­day, al­leg­ing that Moscow is wait­ing to see whether the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity will al­low Rus­sia to as­sert that the Sea of Azov and Black Sea are Rus­sian ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters.

Poroshenko said Rus­sia is also in­creas­ing its pres­ence at sea.

MYKOLA LAZARENKO AP

Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko ad­dresses the Armed Forces of Ukraine on Sat­ur­day at the mil­i­tary air­field in Va­sylkiv re­gion, Ukraine.

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