NATO has formally warned Russia against sending troops into Ukraine as Moscow’s military builds up on the border worrying defence watchers.
An evolving crisis on the Russia-Ukraine border has Europe on high alert, with a defence watcher warning the situation could descend into a “world war” within weeks if tensions aren’t stemmed.
Russian officials have been quick to downplay footage of tanks, artillery and as many as 4000 troops mobilising on the disputed border, which has been under the microscope since 2014 when Russia invaded the Crimea region which is internationally recognised as being part of Ukraine.
President Vladimir Putin authorised military force which saw Moscow seize Crimea as well as parts of the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine.
All of these action were preceded by Russian troop build up on the border.
Worryingly, recent footage has emerged of the Russian military again setting up shop in the regions of Voronezh, Rostov and Krasnodar, on Ukraine’s eastern border.
As the heat once again begins to rise between the two nations, a Russian military expert has pondered whether the world might is equipped to deal with a new assault on Ukraine.
Speaking to the Rosbalt news organisation in Russia, defence analyst Pavel Felgenhauer said the unpredictability of the nation’s push was cause for extra concern.
“The crisis has the potential to escalate into a pan-European war, if not even a world one,” Mr Felgenhauer said.
“For now, (just) potential. Will it happen or not? Let’s wait and see. In the West, they don’t know what to do about it.”
He added that Russia was building towards its annual Victory Day parade on May 9 when examples of the nuclear superpower’s arsenal will be paraded through the Moscow streets and Putin will give a keynote speech.
Mr Felgenhauer said the closure of pro-Russian TV channels in Ukraine, the threat of arrest and trial of Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchyuk, the arrest of Alexei Navalny, and the fact US President Joe Biden called Putin a “killer” were all pieces of the puzzle in Russia’s latest display of power.
“The threats are growing, and rapidly. Much is not discussed in the media, but we are seeing very bad signs,’ he said. “The facts are there, everything is already happening.”
Russia warns the west
Russian officials have already warned the West against getting involved, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisting they would take additional measures if the West sent military aid. According to Mr Peskov, a push from NATO would only escalate tensions near the border.
“No doubt such a scenario would lead to a further increase in tensions close to Russia‘s borders,” he said. “Of course, this would call for additional measures from the Russian side to ensure its security.”
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the Ukraine military understood the severity of pursuing conflict with the superpower, ominously warning that a new war in the region of Donbas would “destroy Ukraine”.
“I very much hope that they will not be ‘incited’ by politicians, who in turn will be ‘incited’ by the West, led by the United States,” said Mr Lavrov.
“Russian President Putin said (this) not long ago, but this statement is still relevant today, that those who would try to start a new war in Donbas will destroy Ukraine.”
US pledges support, but doubts over how deep support really is
President Biden pledged support in his first phone call to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday after the Kiev government accused Moscow of building up a military threat on its border.
In a statement released by the White House, Biden “affirmed the United States‘ unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression in the Donbass and Crimea”.
Zelensky has been particularly vocal about Russia’s growing presence on his doorstep, condemning their approach as muscle flexing exercise. Citing his army’s “wisdom and balance”, the Ukrainian President warned his country was “always ready for any provocations”.
“Russian military build-up on the border with Ukraine and muscle-flexing in the form of military exercises and possible provocations along the border is a traditional Russian affair,” Zelensky said.
“In this way, it seeks to create an atmosphere of threat and, at the same time, of pressure during the negotiations on the ceasefire and on peace as our value.
“Our army is not just strength and power; it is also wisdom and balance. Our state is unity. We are always ready for any provocations.”
A NATO source told Reuters this week that there are concerns over Russia’s recent military mobilisation despite Moscow’s insisted it is not being a threat.
“Allies shared their concerns about Russia‘s recent large-scale military activities in and around Ukraine. Allies are also concerned about Russian violations of the July 2020 ceasefire that led to the death of four Ukrainian soldiers last week,” the official said.
Reuters Kiev correspondent Hasan Abdullah said the Ukrainian military confirmed it had carried out military drills with NATO forces, but there was still “off camera” hesitation for the scale of support coming from international militaries.
“There is reservation about the scope of US support. If there is any military escalation with Russia’s military, what will be the extent of their support?” he told TRT World.
“There is this view here that Ukraine has been brought into a direct conflict, and that the US does not go beyond statements and political support.”