Skip to main content

Russian troop movements near Ukraine raise concerns, U.S. official says

By Barbara Starr, CNN Pentagon Correspondent
updated 7:04 AM EST, Fri February 28, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: About 150,000 personnel are participating in the exercises, Russia says
  • U.S. has not yet seen signs Russian forces are prepping for a move into Ukraine
  • But a senior administration official says military exercises are raising concerns
  • "Let's see no provocative actions by anyone," U.S. defense secretary says

Washington (CNN) -- Russian military exercises near Ukraine are raising concerns that Moscow may be putting troops in position to move across the border if such orders are issued, a senior U.S. official familiar with the most recent administration assessment told CNN Thursday.

But the United States still believes that Russia doesn't plan to order its forces into its tumultuous neighbor, the official said on the condition of anonymity.

U.S. officials -- who are monitoring the area 24 hours a day -- have not yet seen signs that Russia is preparing to secure supply and transportation routes that would be crucial to any such movement, the official said.

Russian military activity levels observed by the United States also "appear to be within normal range," the official said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov offered reassurances Thursday to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that the exercises were previously planned and were not being carried out because of the upheaval in Ukraine, echoing an earlier conversation between U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Ukraine: Russian soldiers invaded airport
Challenges ahead for Ukraine
Tensions rising in Ukraine
Tensions rise over Crimean peninsula

The Russian Defense Ministry has said the combat readiness evaluation is being carried out in territory overseen by the western and central military commands. That puts some of the exercises near the Ukraine border.

"All in all, about 150 thousand military personnel of different services of the armed forces and military commands are involved in the check," Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said in a statement released by the ministry. "Up to 90 planes, more than 120 helicopters, up to 880 tanks, over 1,200 defense equipment units and about 80 ships will be used."

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters Thursday in Brussels, Belgium, where he was meeting with NATO defense ministers, that the United States was following the developments in and around the Ukraine.

"Until we really know more details -- what's really happening there, who is in charge, I think the focus should be ... let's keep the tensions down. Let's see no provocative actions by anyone, any military," he said.

One concern is that with Russian troops out of their garrisons near Ukraine, they could be in a position to move swiftly across the border -- leaving little time for U.S. officials to try to mount diplomatic efforts to stop them, the official said.

But, for now, U.S. officials believe Putin is using the hastily ordered exercises only as a message to U.S. and Ukrainian officials that he has the ability to move his military into Ukraine to protect Russian interests if he chooses to, the official said.

Russia has significant interests in Ukraine. Not only does it neighbor Ukraine, the two countries are major trading partners. Many ethnic Russians live in Ukraine's east, and Russia has a major military base at Sevastopol, Ukraine.

Russian officials have complained that opposition figures who have taken control of Ukraine's government are threatening pro-Russian Ukrainians.

The United States is reviewing Russian tactics in its 2008 move into Georgia for clues about how Moscow might act in this instance.

In that incident, Russian forces fought troops from Georgia in a brief conflict that followed Russian promises to defend Russian citizens in the restive Georgian province of South Ossetia.

U.S. officials worry about a repeat of that incident, in which both sides perceived provocative actions and Russia finally moved in on a large scale.

Any military intervention by Russia would be a "grave mistake," Kerry warned Wednesday.

"For a country that has spoken out so frequently in the last year ... against foreign intervention in Libya, Syria, elsewhere, it would be important for them to heed those warnings as they think about options in the sovereign nation of Ukraine," he said.

READ: Gunmen seize government buildings in Ukraine's Crimea, raise Russian flag

READ: Ukraine's Crimea lives in Russia's shadow: 5 things to know

READ: Can Ukraine's 'political kamikazes' rescue country from collapse?

CNN's Ingrid Formanek and Alla Eshchenko contributed to this report from Kiev.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
The shooting down of MH17 may finally alert Washington and Europe to the danger of the conflict in Ukraine.
updated 7:04 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The United States and its allies are angrier at Russia now over Ukraine, but will they do anything more about it -- especially Europe?
The U.S. State Department released satellite images of what it says is photographic evidence that the Russian military has fired across its border with Ukraine to strike Ukrainian military targets.
updated 10:37 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Background information about Ukraine, the second-largest European country in area after Russia.
updated 1:25 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Ukraine's Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin on securing the MH17 crash site and negotiating with the separatists.
Learn more about the victims, ongoing investigation and the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
updated 5:25 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
The downing Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 put the pro-Russia rebels operating in Ukraine's eastern region center stage.
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Increased fighting around the MH17 crash scene blocks international investigators. CNN's Kyung Lah reports.
updated 2:11 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Russian President Vladimir Putin bears at least some responsibility for the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.
updated 8:29 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
"Every country, including Russia," must determine whether it is "together with the terrorists or together with the civilized world," Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said.
updated 1:08 PM EDT, Sat June 28, 2014
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko says peace is possible if Vladimir Putin is in the right mood.
ADVERTISEMENT