Top US general calls Russia, Ukraine amid reported Moscow troop buildup

File photo. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley attends ceremony where US President Donald J. Trump (not pictured) presented the Medal of Honor to Sergeant Major Thomas Payne (not pictured). in Washington, DC, USA, 11 September 2020. [Pool/EPA/EFE]

The top Pentagon general called counterparts in Russia and Ukraine Wednesday (31 March) as the US Defense Department expressed concerns about a reported buildup of Russian troops along Ukraine’s border and in Crimea.

US troops in Europe were on an elevated “watch condition” as Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley spoke to General Valery Gerasimov, the Russian Armed Forces chief of staff, and Ukraine armed forces Commander in Chief Ruslan Khomchak.

Meanwhile White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan called the head of the Ukraine Presidential Office Andriy Yermak to reiterate Washington’s support for the country.

“We’re concerned about recent escalations of Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine, including violations of the July 2020 ceasefire that led to the deaths of 4 Ukrainian soldiers on the 26th of March, and the wounding of two others,” said Pentagon spokesman John Kirby.

“Russia’s destabilizing actions undermine the deescalation in tensions that had been achieved through an OSCE-brokered agreement back in July of last year.”

He said the US military was aware of Ukrainian reports concerning Russian troop movements on the country’s borders.

“We’re discussing our concerns about this increase in tensions in ceasefire violations and regional tensions with NATO allies.”

On Tuesday Moscow and Kyiv traded accusations of responsibility for an increase in violence between Ukraine government forces and Kremlin-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, leading to a rise in deaths.

Khomchak denounced the “threat to the military security” of Ukraine by the Russian army, saying that some 28,000 separatist fighters and “more than 2,000 Russian military instructors and advisers” are currently stationed in eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine says Russian military buildup threatens its security

Russia is building up armed forces near Ukraine’s borders in a threat to the country’s security, Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Ruslan Khomchak said on Tuesday (30 March), accusing Moscow of pursuing an “aggressive policy” towards Kyiv.

Reports online suggested that Russia had located more military forces along the border and also moved more into Crimea, the Ukraine territory that Moscow seized in 2014.

Those reports could not be confirmed, but some observers have tied them to Russian military exercises.

NATO jets intercept Russian warplanes during 'unusual level of air activity'

NATO fighter jets scrambled 10 times on Monday (29 March), to shadow Russian bombers and fighters during an unusual peak of flights over the North Atlantic, North Sea, Black Sea and Baltic Sea, NATO said on Tuesday.

Kirby said Milley’s call to his Russian counterpart was “to gain a little bit more clarity on what exactly is going on.”

“We obviously don’t want to see any more violations of Ukrainian territory,” he said.

In his call with Yermak, Sullivan “affirmed the United States’ unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and Euro-Atlantic aspirations, in the face of continuing aggression,” according to a White House statement.

US forces in Europe were placed on a heightened watch level to “potential imminent crisis” in response to Russian activities, Kirby confirmed.

He said that the watch condition “expresses combatant commanders’ concern about a potential threat.”

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