Russia Builds Up Forces Near Ukraine

Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren said the US is concerned about the build-up of Russian forces along the Ukraine border, according to a July 17 Defense Department release. As of July 11, NATO declared Russia still maintains 12,000 “troops, tanks, and artillery close to the Ukrainian border,” and is running an “unprecedented schedule” of no-notice military exercises. Warren’s comments come one day after White House officials announced new sanctions against Russia, saying “time and again” Russia has demonstrated a “refusal to follow through on necessary commitments and conditions for de-escalation” in Ukraine. The officials, speaking to reporters Wednesday evening on background, noted “the flow of heavy weapons and support for separatists from Russia” has increased over the last month. The weapons also appear to be getting more advanced, they said. Specifically, they noted the An-26 transport jet that was shot down July 14 with eight crewmembers on board was flying at an altitude of 21,000 feet. “Only very sophisticated weapons systems would be able to reach this height,” said the officials, who also noted that the next day “several bridges into Donetsk were taken by separatists, as well as continued attacks on border checkpoints.” The An-26 is one of three aircraft shot down in the Ukraine region. (See also Civilian Airliner Crashes in Ukraine, Tensions Rapidly Escalate.) (White House transcript.)