Ukraine-Russia Tensions Flare as Russians Rebuild Military in Crimea
By Carolyn Presutti August 12, 2016
Ukrainian troops are on high alert as tensions rise with Russia. Kyiv has accused Moscow of increasing its troop presence on the Crimean peninsula annexed by Russia two years ago. Moscow is accusing Kyiv of an incursion into Crimea. Some experts say the timing is ripe for a conflict because the world's attention is elsewhere.
Two years ago in Ukraine's Independence Square, riot police fired on protesters in Maidan. More than 50 were killed at close range. The result was the ouster of Ukraine's Russian-leaning President Victor Yanukovych and Russia's subsequent annexation of Crimea.
Now, the Ukrainian military is on high alert, fearful of another conflict with Russia. Moscow shut off three crossings at the Crimea-Ukraine border last week. Kyiv accuses Russia of massive troop buildups in the Donbas region and along the border shared by the two countries.
Phillip Karber of the Potomac Foundation told VOA's Jela De Franceschi the moves have clear invasion potential.
"They're reorganizing the 20th Army and then they created this new first guard's tank army. Since the end of the Cold War, the Russians haven't had anything tank army. Well, they're back," said Karber.
But Russia accuses Ukraine of provocations by planning raids in Crimea. Moscow released video of a suspected saboteur accused of planning to bomb infrastructure in Crimea. President Vladimir Putin said the alleged raids are a terror tactic.
"This attempt to provoke an outbreak of violence, to provoke a conflict, is nothing other than a desire to divert public attention from the country by those who took power in Kyiv, to continue to stay in power and to continue stealing from their own people," said Putin.
Residents in Dzhankoi, a Crimean city near the de-facto border with Ukraine, report all is calm now.
"I have seen police patrols in a couple of places near the market, nothing special. Actually everything is as usual," said local Bekir Mambetov.
Observers say both sides seem to be preparing for "something bigger" -- defense analysts in Moscow like Pavel Felgenhauer say a full-scale battle would take the world by surprise.
"The United States is in the turmoil of a very divided election campaign, President Obama is a lame duck, and most likely will not take any serious action. Europe is also divided by the Brexit, by the refugee crisis, by other things," said Felgenhauer.
Experts say the West needs to provide a united front to help diffuse the tension. One goes so far as to say Western politicians should at least start paying attention.
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