Russia troop buildup at Ukraine border

Australian and Dutch experts examine the area of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 plane crash on Sunday, August 3, near the village of Rossipne, in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine. The United States says a surface-to-air missile took down the Boeing 777 on Thursday, July 17, as it was flying over Ukraine from Amsterdam, Netherlands, to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, killing all 298 people aboard. Ukrainian officials have accused pro-Russian rebels of downing the jet, but Russia blames Ukraine's recent military operations against the rebels.Australian and Dutch experts examine the area of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 plane crash on Sunday, August 3, near the village of Rossipne, in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine. The United States says a surface-to-air missile took down the Boeing 777 on Thursday, July 17, as it was flying over Ukraine from Amsterdam, Netherlands, to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, killing all 298 people aboard. Ukrainian officials have accused pro-Russian rebels of downing the jet, but Russia blames Ukraine’s recent military operations against the rebels.

HIDE CAPTION

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

<<

<

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

23

24

25

26

27

28

29

30

31

32

33

34

35

36

37

38

39

40

41

42

43

44

45

46

47

48

49

50

51

52

53

54

55

56

57

>

>>

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • NEW: A U.S. military team in Kiev is aiding the recovery effort of downed Flight MH17
  • NATO official says there are about 20,000 Russian troops near the Ukraine border
  • Some 730,000 Ukrainians have fled to Russia, a U.N. agency says
  • Russia is conducting military exercises in its southwest region

Donetsk, Ukraine (CNN) — A new buildup of Russian troops along the Ukraine border raised concerns Tuesday that Moscow might be contemplating another intervention like the one that annexed Crimea earlier this year.

According to a NATO official, Russia now has about 20,000 troops stationed “in an area along the entire border with eastern Ukraine.” The buildup nearly doubled the troop deployment in the last week by adding 8,000 more forces to 12,000 already there, the official said.

It comes a week after the United States and the European Union increased economic sanctions on Russia for supporting pro-Russian separatists fighting Ukraine government forces in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, along the border with Russia.

In addition, Russia’s Defense Ministry is staging a week of military exercises involving air troops and anti-missile defense forces. The exercises are taking place in Russia’s southern Astrakhan region, roughly 500 miles from the border with Ukraine.

Similar military exercises in the region preceded Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March, which escalated the Ukraine conflict following the ouster of pro-Moscow Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych a month earlier.

Donetsk braces for offensive

Meanwhile, Ukraine government security officials said Monday they were preparing for a “massive assault” on Donetsk city, state media reported. Inside the city, a rebel stronghold for months, shelling has already pushed some residents underground into cellars and half-built basements.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry claimed in a statement Monday that the Ukrainian military was firing missiles and using multiple rocket systems in and around the city.

It accused Ukraine’s government of wanting to continue the war and called for talks to find a political situation to the crisis.

With escalated fighting and Ukrainian forces making gains, the Russian deployment at the border could portend an intervention under the banner of a peacekeeping operation.

Russian troop buildup

The NATO official said Russian forces gathering at the Ukraine border included a “spectrum” of assets — infantry, mechanized divisions, armor, a lot of artillery, both conventional and air defense, and special forces and logistics.

MH17 investigation begins amid violence

Ukrainian army advances against rebels

Does Putin want war in Ukraine?

“They are very capable Russian regular units and can move in a matter of hours and could significantly disrupt the situation” in eastern Ukraine, the official said.

The Ukrainian government and Western leaders accuse Russia of fomenting instability in its neighbor by arming and supporting the rebels there, which Russia denies.

The downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on July 17 exacerbated the situation.

Malaysian plane downed

U.S. and Ukrainian officials allege that a Russian-made missile shot down the plane from rebel-held territory, killing all 298 people on board. Russia and the rebel fighters deny involvement.

Earlier this year, Russia amassed about 40,000 troops on the Ukraine border and threatened to invade, NATO said in a fact sheet published last month.

Putin then ordered most of the soldiers to return to their bases, leaving about 12,000 of July 11, NATO said.

On Tuesday, Ukraine’s National Defense and Security Council said the Russian deployment now numbered as high as 45,000, and that there had been 26 clashes in the past 24 hours, including six attacks from Russian territory.

Meanwhile, Russian combat aircraft crew will practice firing at air and ground targets in unfamiliar territory, the defense ministry said of the military exercises in the region. The maneuvers will involve 100 aircraft, including fighter jets, bombers and combat helicopters.

In its fact sheet, NATO challenged Russian accusations that the alliance is escalating the crisis in Ukraine by bolstering its support for NATO members in Eastern Europe.

“Over the past months, Russia has also embarked on an unprecedented schedule of no-notice military exercises involving massive numbers of troops and heavy equipment,” NATO said, adding: “Russia should explain what its military plans are before it starts accusing others of posing a threat.”

Search for remains

An official with knowledge of the MH17 investigation told CNN that a significant part of the crash site was between Ukrainian and separatist front lines, which constantly change.

A 17-vehicle convoy of 110 experts accompanied by nine international monitors made it to the site on Tuesday, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe said via Twitter.

The experts, from the Netherlands, Australia and Malaysia, were hampered in their search efforts Monday by renewed fighting in the area.

Monday’s search focused in and around the village of Petropavlivka, in the western part of the huge debris field, but the team was unable to complete its mission after an initial delay.

They did recover some personal belongings of those on the flight, including photo albums and passports, said Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg, head of the Dutch recovery mission.

In addition, a team of about a dozen U.S. military specialists arrived Tuesday in Kiev to assist the recovery effort, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters.

He said the State Department requested the team to “assess, advise, and provide recommendations to the U.S. Embassy” about possible U.S. support for the recovery operation.

“They are military; they will not leave Kiev,” Kirby said, adding that the team includes experts in communications, logistics and other areas that can aid the investigation.

“Recovery operations is something, tragically and unfortunately, the U.S. military has to do and has to be good at,” Kirby said.

Train wagons

A train carrying MH17 victims’ belongings recovered from the crash site in the days immediately following the July tragedy arrived in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv on Tuesday, the OSCE told CNN. It will continue to the Netherlands once it has customs clearance.

While refrigerated train wagons holding body bags were sent to Kharkiv much earlier, the investigating team was only granted access to this train wagon over the weekend, according to the OSCE.

Inspector shares video of MH17 wreckage

Ukraine’s broken military

The wagon does not appear to have been tampered with while held in the town of Torez, near the crash site, Aalbersberg said. “The seal on the wagon was still intact and the suitcases, bags and cameras inside seemed untouched.”

Refugees flee conflict

The ongoing fighting has forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes and seek shelter either elsewhere in Ukraine or across the border in Russia.

The U.N. refugee agency, the UNHCR, said Tuesday that the Russian authorities estimate that around 730,000 Ukrainians have sought sanctuary in Russia this year under a visa-free travel program. This includes more than 168,000 who have reported to Russia’s Federal Migration Service.

Russia’s state-run news agency Itar-Tass reported Tuesday that Russia has set up 585 temporary camps to house the fleeing Ukrainians. More than 42,400 people are staying there, including about 15,000 children, it said.

UNHCR’s European director Vincent Cochetel told journalists in Geneva that about 80% of the Ukrainians who have fled to Russia are staying in border areas, while others are with friends or family in other parts of the country.

Many people in eastern Ukraine are Russian-speaking and have strong ties to Russia.

At the same time, nearly 118,000 people are reported to be internally displaced, most of them from eastern Ukraine, based on information given to the UNHCR by Ukrainian authorities and local NGOs.

“In the past seven days more than 6,200 people have been forced from their homes,” Cochetel said.

Many have fled with limited possessions, some driven out by the destruction of homes and infrastructure, while others say they fear being caught in the crossfire or suffering persecution.

The UNHCR has seen a significant increase in people fleeing violence around Horlivka, Donetsk and Luhansk, where conflict has intensified in recent days, Cochetel said.

At the same time, there has been a “substantial number of returns” to areas where the Ukrainian government has regained control, such as Slovyansk and Kramatorsk, he said, citing local authorities.

READ: Donetsk residents hunker down

READ: MH17 crash site: Dangers delay investigators; Ukraine warns of mines

READ: MH17 crash: Get up to speed on the latest from Ukraine

CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh reported from Donetsk, while Laura Smith-Spark wrote and reported in London and Tom Cohen wrote in Washington. CNN’s Kellie Morgan, Alexander Felton and Alla Eshchenko contributed to this report.

SHARE THIS


CNN.com – Top Stories

You may also like...