The standoff between Russia and Ukraine inched closer to a possible war Tuesday as Russia announced it would send more surface-to-air missile batteries to Crimea.
Russia, which has three advanced surface-to-air missile batteries in Crimea — formerly part of Ukraine but which was forcibly annexed by Russia in 2014 — will add a fourth by the end of the year, NPR reported.
Long-simmering tensions erupted into conflict Sunday after Russian ships attacked and captured three Ukrainian vessels in the Sea of Azov, wounding several sailors. Russia also blocked off the sea, creating the potential for negative economic impacts on Ukrainian ports.
Ukraine responded by establishing martial law.
“The country is under the threat of a full-scale war with the Russian Federation,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said, according to CNN.
Ukraine officials said they are ready to respond to Russian escalation.
“This attack, of course, is not accidental. This is clearly an element planned by Russians in the escalation of the situation in the waters of the Sea of Azov, which has been lasting for several months. And I’m sure this is still not a culmination,” Poroshenko added, according to the administration’s website.
“Given the blatant arrogance and brutality of Russian aggressive actions, it is now likely possible that Russia plans further acts of aggression at sea or on the ground. We must be ready for this,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin tweeted Sunday night.
Given the blatant arrogance and brutality of russian aggressive actions, it is now likely possible that Russia plans further acts of aggression at sea or on the ground. We must be ready for this #RussiaAttacksUkraine
— Pavlo Klimkin (@PavloKlimkin) November 25, 2018
Ukraine’s armed forces were placed on full alert Sunday night.
“I can surely speak confidently—me and my comrades are ready. We’re just waiting for a final decision from the president,” said Mykhailo Khiraldo-Ramirez, of Ukraine’s 318th Kyiv Territorial Defense Battalion, according to The Daily Signal. The unit would attack any Russian forces that invade Ukraine.
The scale of any war would be vast between two nations whose standing armies are the largest in Europe. Ukraine has been growing its armed forces. It has roughly 250,000 active duty troops The National Interest reported. It also has about 900,000 reservists, according to The Carnegie Endowment. The website Global Firepower estimates Russia has just over 1 million active-duty troops with slightly more than 2.57 million reservists.
Some commentators said Russia is not ready to pull the trigger.
“The situation is affecting local economies along the coast and destabilizing the Ukrainian ports of Mariupol and Berdyansk,” said Mathieu Boulègue, a research fellow in the Russia and Eurasia program at Chatham House, The Moscow Times reported. “Putting military pressure on Ukrainian assets in the Sea of Azov contributes to the Kremlin’s long-term strategy of keeping Ukraine politically weak and divided, especially ahead of the March 2019 presidential elections.”
One expert noted that Ukraine’s leaders face internal pressures to talk tough after Russia’s actions.
“If the Ukrainian government does not respond properly, it will appear weak or incapable to Ukrainian society and empower the Kremlin’s preferred candidates in the coming elections,” said Franklin Holcomb, a researcher specializing in Russian geopolitical affairs at the University of Tartu in Estonia.
Another expert noted that Russia did cross a line with Sunday’s actions.
“By any standard, these are acts of war,” Stephan Blank, a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, wrote in an article for the Atlantic Council.
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