[VIDEO] NATO Sees ‘Significant Buildup’ of Russian Forces in Ukraine

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Large Convoys Reported to be Moving Into the Region

BRUSSELS—Naftali Bendavid reports: Russia has sent convoys of tanks, howitzers and other weaponry along with troops into eastern Ukraine in recent days, possibly aiming to consolidate separatist enclaves there in preparation for a long-term standoff, Western observers say.

The new incursions represent a sharp increase in Russia’s presence in the region, posing a significant new challenge to the peace plan signed in early September in Minsk, Belarus.

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“This is a severe threat to the cease-fire,” the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said. “Any attempt by separatist forces to seize more territory in eastern Ukraine would be another blatant violation of the Minsk agreement.”

The flow “includes Russian artillery, tanks, air defense systems and troops,” he said.

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‘We…are again at a point in which we can’t say for sure how this conflict will proceed.’

—German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier

In addition, international monitors in the region said that the Russian-backed rebels have been gaining territory, and that the mission’s surveillance drones have been shot at and jammed.

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‘While our aim is to try to work to consolidate the cease-fire, it is more on paper.’

Lamberto Zannier, OSCE secretary-general

Russia’s Defense Ministry denied the allegations of a military presence—troops or weaponry—in Ukraine, calling them, like previous ones, “regular concussions of the Brussels air.”

Since the cease-fire was reached between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists on Sept. 5—under Russian auspices—the two sides have regularly accused each other of violations. Hundreds of deaths of fighters and civilians have been recorded since then.

Tensions have risen since the separatists held rogue elections in the region early this month, and clashes have increased along the front line. Western officials say they fear Russia intends to turn eastern Ukraine into a permanently unstable “frozen conflict” area, in an attempt to keep influence over its neighbor.

Still, neither side has wanted to publicly declare the truce dead. For Kiev, restarting a war would likely mean certain defeat at the hands of superior Russian forces, while Moscow seems to be unwilling to risk major new economic sanctions by allowing or backing a rebel offensive.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel blamed Russia for undermining the peace agreement after a phone call Wednesday with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, according to her spokesman. A day earlier, she said there were no plans to step up sanctions against Russia for now.

However, her foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, called the latest incursions unsettling….(read more)

WSJ



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