NATO leaders warned today that Russian forces massed near the country’s border with Ukraine are in a high state of readiness and that any incursion across the frontier would be a “historic mistake.”
The presence of as many as 40,000 soldiers along Ukraine’s eastern border is fueling concern that Russia is poised to invade on the pretext of protecting Russian-speaking inhabitants of eastern and southern Ukraine. Backed by state-run media, President Vladimir Putin says the Kiev-based government is influenced by Russophobe extremists and hasn’t done enough to stop them from persecuting Russian-speakers.
“We have seen a very massive Russian military buildup along the Ukrainian borders,” North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said after a two-day meeting of alliance foreign ministers in Brussels. “We also know that these Russian military armed forces are at very high readiness.”
Earlier today, Russia pressed Ukraine to disarm nationalists it says are oppressing its compatriots there, echoing comments it made in the run-up to its military occupation of Crimea and its annexation last month following a Kremlin-backed referendum. Ukraine’s government denies that Russian speakers are at risk.
“We urge the Ukrainian authorities not to limit themselves to sham statements about the fight against radical forces in Ukraine and to take decisive measures to disarm the militants,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on its website.
NATO ministers vowed yesterday to boost support for eastern nations unnerved by Russia’s actions. Today, Rasmussen restated that the alliance hasn’t seen signs of a significant reduction in Russian military forces along Ukraine’s border.
“This is really a matter of grave concern,” he said. “If Russia were to intervene further in Ukraine, I wouldn’t hesitate to call it a historic mistake.”
The alliance’s top military commander, U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, echoed Rasmussen’s concerns in an interview with Reuters and the Wall Street Journal.
Russia’s military is “ready to go and we think it could accomplish its objectives in between three and five days if directed,” Breedlove said in the interview. “This is a very large and very capable and very ready force.”
Potential objectives include an incursion into southern Ukraine to establish a land corridor to Crimea, pushing beyond Ukrainian port of Odessa or moving toward Transnistria, a breakaway pro-Russian region of Moldova, the general was reported as saying.
The worst confrontation between the U.S. and European states and Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union has rattled markets.
The Micex stock index fell 0.2 percent to 1,373.33 in Moscow, extending to 4.9 percent its decline since March 1, when Putin’s intervention sparked the standoff between Russia and the U.S. The ruble has depreciated 7 percent against dollar this year, making it the second-worst performer of 24 emerging-market currencies tracked by Bloomberg.
Ukraine, whose hryvnia has lost 27 percent against the dollar this year, may return to international markets with a Eurobond sale in the second half of this year, Finance Minister Oleksandr Shlapak said today in Kiev. He said the government was willing to pay 6 percent to 7 percent, versus the 8.574 percent yield on its 2023 dollar bond as of 6:15 p.m. today.