Despite Russian reassurances that Moscow’s troop buildup along Ukraine’s eastern frontier is for a military exercise, its growing scale is making U.S. officials nervous about its ultimate aim. President Barack Obama on Friday urged Russia to stop “intimidating” Ukraine and to pull its troops back to “de-escalate the situation.” He told CBS that the troop buildup may “be an effort to intimidate Ukraine, or it may be that [Russia has] additional plans.”
Pentagon officials say they believe there could be close to 50,000 Russian troops bordering the former Soviet republic and inside Crimea, recently seized and annexed by Moscow. That estimate is double earlier assessments, and means Russian President Vladimir Putin could order a lighting strike into Ukrainian territory with the forces already in place. The higher troop count was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
The war for the East continues. The economy teeters. The ultra-nationalists may not have done well in recent elections but they are armed and organized into self-governing “patriotic battalions” fighting independently of the government’s command. A recipe for disaster of Yugoslav proportions, perhaps. And yet most Ukrainians remain surprisingly hopeful. “We found out who we are. And who are aren’t,” says Ruslana Khazipova, a young singer with the band Dakh Daughters. “We are free. And we aren’t Russia’s bitch any more.”