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EU: Russian Troop Buildup Along Ukraine, Crimea Highest Ever

By Lisa Bryant April 19, 2021

The European Union says roughly 150,000 Russian troops are massed along the border of Ukraine and in Crimea — calling it the highest such military deployment.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell described Russia's military buildup on the Ukraine border and annexed Crimea as very worrying.

"The military deployment of Russian troops, with all kinds of materials — deploying campaign hospitals and all kinds of warfare — has been continuing. I cannot tell you where this figure comes from, but it is my reference figure. It is the highest military deployment of Russian army in Ukrainian borders ever," he said.

But Borrell said for now — and despite separate accusations by the Czech Republic that Russia was behind explosions in 2014 at an ammunition depot— the 27-member bloc is not planning more sanctions against Moscow.

"At the time being there is no move on the field of more sanctions to Russia. Things can change, but the situation is the way I am explaining," he said.

The Czech Republic has expelled 18 Russian diplomats accused of being spies in the case related to the explosion. In a tit-for-tat move, Moscow ordered 20 Czech diplomats out of Russia.

The EU has followed Washington in warning Moscow about another key issue — the deteriorating health of opposition activist Alexey Navalny, who began a hunger strike last month demanding better medical care. Navalny reportedly has now been moved to a military hospital.

"They are responsible for Navalny's safety and health, and we will hold them to account for it," said Borrell.

The prison service said at the present time, Navalny's health is deemed satisfactory, and that he is being examined daily by a physician. Officials also say he agreed to take vitamin therapy.

Russia was the top item at Monday's EU foreign ministers meeting — held by video link because of the coronavirus pandemic. Experts say tensions between Russia and the West are at their highest point since the Cold War. Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France also held four-way talks in Kyiv.

Senior analyst Amanda Paul, of the Brussels-based European Policy Center, said she is not surprised the EU isn't taking bolder action against Russia, which annexed Crimea in 2014.

"The problem is, like always, you don't have one voice. Obviously, there's some member states that would like the EU to respond with a much tougher narrative or tougher steps. But you have the other part that is more cautious and wants to wait and see," she said.

On other hotspots, the EU adopted a new round of sanctions against Myanmar following the February coup there. It also criticized the lack of progress on Ethiopia's Tigray region, where fighting between the federal government and the region's former ruling party erupted last year.

The EU says troops from Eritrea have not withdrawn and human rights violations continue. Eritrea had been fighting on the side of the Ethiopian federal forces. Eritrea previously denied being in the Tigray region.

On a positive note, Borrell was upbeat about progress between Washington and Tehran at indirect nuclear talks in Vienna.

"I think both parts are really interested in reaching an agreement," she said.

The Reuters news agency cites a Russian diplomat saying negotiations to save the 2015 Iran nuclear deal were in a drafting stage, although solutions to issues were still far away.

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