The U.S. military believes a buildup of Russian forces near the border with Ukraine, seen as “concerning” on Tuesday, is likely a training exercise. But the gathering of troops comes amid heightened tension in the region, and Ukraine’s Commander-In-Chief Ruslan Khomchack told his country’s parliament this week that Russian forces from different regions had been assembling near the border.
Russia’s president has acknowledged an “escalation of armed confrontation” in the region.
Training exercises were always a possible explanation for the buildup, but a U.S. defense official told CBS News that the locations and types of units seen on the ground didn’t line up with what the Russian Ministry of Defense had announced last month.
Ukraine and Russia have been inin 2014. The U.S. and its NATO allies do not recognize Russia’s annexation of the peninsula, and the U.S contributes millions in both non-military and military aid each year to Ukraine.
Relations between the two countries have been getting worse. Just four days ago, four Ukrainian soldiers were killed by Russian separatist shelling in eastern Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin noted the increase in violence on Tuesday, and blamed Ukrainian forces for it.
An official readout from the Kremlin of a phone call that Putin had with the French and German leaders said he had, “expressed serious concern about the escalation of armed confrontation on the contact line being provoked by Ukraine.”
The U.S. Embassy in Kiev issued a statement last week calling on Russia to “observe ceasefire measures” and “end daily violence that is causing senseless suffering,” and end its aggression in Ukraine.
On Monday, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan spoke with the head of the Ukrainian Presidential Office, Andriy Yermak, and affirmed the U.S.’ ongoing support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and Euro-Atlantic aspirations in the face of continuing aggression, according to a readout from the NSC.