Russia has amassed as many as 38,000 soldiers on its borders with Ukraine and continues to supply arms and personnel to rebel forces in the eastern part of the country, Ukraine’s National Security Council chief said.
Russia has moved about 16,000 troops to Ukraine’s eastern frontier and has another 22,000 in Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that President Vladimir Putin annexed in March, Andriy Parubiy told reporters in the capital Kiev today.
“The military invasion is continuing,” Parubiy said. “We are dealing with Russian occupiers and weapons and militants are being brought in.”
Rebels shot down a transport plane in mainly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine on June 14, killing 49 servicemen in the deadliest attack since separatists seized government buildings on April 6. The U.S. and the European Union have warned Putin that Russia faces further sanctions if concrete steps aren’t taken to de-escalate the conflict, which has claimed hundreds of lives.
The downing of the IL-76 aircraft as it approached the airport in Luhansk came after the U.S. accused Russia of sending heavy weapons, including rocket launchers and tanks, to rebels across the border. Russia has protested the civilian toll or Ukraine’s offensive in the east.
The number of militants in Luhansk and the neighboring Donetsk region is about 15,000 to 20,000, half of whom are from Russia, including special forces, Parubiy said today. Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry in Moscow, declined to comment on Parubiy’s assertions.
There’s a “humanitarian disaster” in the towns taken over by the militants, Parubiy said, adding that the Security Council is preparing to evacuate local residents.
Russia ratcheted up the pressure on new President Petro Poroshenko by cutting off gas supplies to Ukraine for the first time since his Kremlin-backed predecessor, Viktor Yanukovych was deposed during bloody protests in Kiev in February.
As of 10 a.m. Moscow time, OAO Gazprom, Russia’s gas exporter, said it will provide only enough gas to Ukraine’s pipeline system to meet demand from European customers, after talks over prices and debt failed. Gazprom, which supplies 30 percent of Europe’s gas, about half of which flows through Ukraine, said Ukraine will only receive fuel paid for up front.
Poroshenko, sworn in June 7, said today he’ll announce a limited cease-fire as part of a peace plan he intends to offer this week, after Ukrainian forces regain control of the border and halt the inflow of weapons and fighters.
The plan will include early elections in the eastern part of the country and constitutional changes to give those regions more power, Poroshenko said at a security meeting in Kiev.
“The cease-fire’s duration will be limited because we don’t need talks for the sake of talks,” Poroshenko said. The lack of complete control over the border “is the only thing that keeps us from a cease-fire,” the president said.