The Pentagon said it was not entirely clear about the purpose of this presentation, despite explanations from Russian officials.
WASHINGTON – The number of Russian troops stationed in occupied Crimea near the border with Ukraine has gradually increased over the past two weeks and surpassed the forces that annexed the peninsula in 2014, the Pentagon said.
Defense spokesman John Kirby declined to provide specific figures showing the growing presence of Russian troops.
A spokesman for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said last week that about 80,000 Russian troops are concentrated near the country’s borders, 40,000 of them in Crimea.
On Monday, the EU said more than 100,000 troops were stationed in the border areas.
“What I can say is that overall we continue to see this growth. Again, this is a concern for us, ”Kirby told reporters.
“In general, over the past couple of weeks we have seen an increase in the number of troops along the border with Ukraine in the occupied Crimea,” he said.
In 2014, Russia annexed Ukrainian Crimea using unmarked military uniforms and began supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine. Since then, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine has not subsided and has already cost about 14 thousand lives, despite several truces.
Experts cannot say with certainty whether this is just muscle-flexing or whether Russia is trying to provoke Kyiv into a major clash.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said earlier this month that the troop build-up is part of a readiness exercise.
According to Kirby, the scale of the current deployment of Russian troops is “certainly greater” than the buildup that accompanied the annexation of the peninsula in 2014.
“We call on Russia to articulate its intentions more clearly. We do not believe this build-up contributes to security and stability along the border with Ukraine and certainly not in occupied Crimea, ”Kirby said.
“We, of course, have heard the statements of the Russian side that the whole point is in the exercises. It is not entirely clear to us that this is exactly the goal, ”he added.
A spokesman for the US Department of Defense, who was not authorized to speak in public, told NBC News that tens of thousands of Russian troops with tanks, artillery and aircraft were concentrated on the border with Ukraine in Crimea and other regions.
Clashes with separatists intensified in eastern Ukraine against the backdrop of heightened tensions with Moscow. On Sunday, during such clashes, one Ukrainian soldier was killed and another was wounded.
Meanwhile, the United States expressed “deep concern” about Russia’s plans to block the movement of foreign ships in parts of the Black Sea, including near the occupied Crimea and the Kerch Strait.
This is stated in a statement released by the State Department.
“Russia has repeatedly taken aggressive actions against Ukrainian ships and obstructed access to Ukrainian ports in the Sea of Azov, affecting Ukraine’s international trade. This represents another unprovoked escalation of Moscow’s ongoing campaign to undermine and destabilize Ukraine. This development is particularly alarming amid confirmed reports of a buildup of Russian troops in occupied Crimea and on the border with Ukraine, which have not been observed since the Russian invasion in 2014, and other provocative actions by Russian-led forces on the line of contact, ”the statement said. …
The US Foreign Office confirmed “unwavering support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders, including its territorial waters,” and recalled that the United States “does not and will never recognize the annexation of Crimea by Russia.”
“We pay tribute to Ukraine for its continued restraint in the face of Russian provocations and call on Russia to end its pursuit of ships in the region and back up the buildup of forces along the border with Ukraine and in the occupied Crimea,” the statement reads.