U.S. at OSCE: Russia's military activities near Ukraine not a routine exercise

Russia's military activities near Ukraine's border are not a routine military exercise, and Russia also massed forces in 2008 and 2014, before the start of military operations against Georgia and Ukraine, respectively, according to Chargé d'Affaires at the U.S. Mission to the OSCE Courtney Austrian.

She said this at a special joint meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council and the OSCE Forum for Security Cooperation on Wednesday, April 14.

Austrian said that the United States joins other participating States in expressing its continued and considerable concern over Russia's military activities near Ukraine's border and in Russia-occupied Crimea. "These provocations only threaten to further destabilize an already tense and fragile security situation," she said.

Austrian noted that Russia's refusal to provide sufficient information about unusual military activities near its border with Ukraine and in Russia-occupied Crimea "is inconsistent with the letter and spirit of the Vienna Document, which was adopted by all 57 participating States, including Russia."

"After having fomented and fueled seven years of conflict in eastern Ukraine, Russia now has the opportunity to do the right thing. Now is the moment for Russia to clearly articulate the nature of its military activities near Ukraine's border and dispel the concerns of its neighbors and OSCE participating States in accordance with the Vienna Document. All of the available evidence suggests this is not a routine military exercise," she said.

She noted that the United States finds dubious "any suggestions that these activities may be related to Russia's ZAPAD exercise later this year, given the timing, location, and composition of Russian forces involved."

"Ukraine is right to be concerned about these activities. In both 2008 and 2014, Russia massed forces in a similar manner before it launched military operations against Georgia and then Ukraine," Austrian said.

She also said that for months now, Russia has been using its Permanent Council statements to outline a false narrative asserting a large-scale Ukrainian military operation was evident. "Such escalation on the part of Ukraine has not been seen," Austrian said.

Instead, Russia has sent thousands of troops to its border with Ukraine and to Russia-occupied Crimea.

"According to information obtained from available sources, Russia has more troops stationed on the Ukrainian border now than at any time since 2014. Russia has moved 15,000-25,000 troops to Crimea or closer to the Ukrainian borders. This number includes infantry, tank battalions, helicopters, and air defense assets," the diplomat said.

The U.S. side assesses Russia has an estimated 31,500 troops and has deployed advanced air defense systems, such as the S-400, fighter aircraft, and coastal defense cruise missiles. "Along the internationally recognized border with Ukraine, Russia has increased its force posture considerably since 2015, stationing tens of thousands of troops, reactivating units, refurbishing bases, and deploying more capable ground, air, and air defense equipment," Austrian said.

"Large military activity on the border of – or indeed in the territory of – a neighbor without prior notification, as is the case here, is destabilizing, particularly given the context and history. It raises questions about intentions. To our knowledge Ukraine has taken no step that could be viewed as provoking such a response. We again call on Russia to explain the size, composition, and purpose of this activity," Austrian said.

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