RUSSIA PUTS 80,000 TROOPS OUTSIDE UKRAINE

Washington Times on March 27, 2014, reported that US lawmakers are increasingly concerned about Russian troop movements on the border with Ukraine and the prospect of an additional land grab, as both houses of Congress voted to slap sanctions on Russia and extend loan guarantees to Ukraine. Excerpts below:

Pentagon officials briefed senior Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee that as many as 80,000 Russian troops may be massed just outside Ukraine, according to two congressional sources. That was more than twice the previous assessment.

“This buildup is significant and clearly indicates that President [Vladimir] Putin is creating options to potentially capture much of Eastern Ukraine and move on Kiev,” Rep. Michael R. Turner, Ohio Republican and a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement.

The International Monetary Fund also agreed to extend billions of dollars in financial assistance, and the U.N. General Assembly, in a surprising show of solidarity with Ukraine, voted to disavow the Russian annexation of Crimea last week.

In Ukraine, the interim prime minister warned that the country faces tough economic decisions in order to meet conditions for the IMF aid, The Associated Press reported.

Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister who was imprisoned under the previous regime, said she will make a run at the presidency,…

In Washington, lawmakers congratulated themselves for breaking a two-week standoff and passing bills that would codify sanctions on Russia and extend loan guarantees to Ukraine.

“I am not predicting that we will have a World War III. I am predicting that unless we act and act vigorously — a lot more than this legislation today — Vladimir Putin will be encouraged to take further actions,” said Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who has claimed leadership on the issue among Senate Republicans.

Even before they finalized their legislation, lawmakers were plotting their next moves.

Some senators want Mr. Obama to send small arms and communications equipment to Ukraine, whose armed forces are overpowered by Russia‘s. So far, U.S. assistance has been limited to food rations.

A bipartisan group of senators issued a letter on March 27 that called on Mr. Obama to impose sanctions and cancel contracts with a Russian arms firm, Rosoboronexport, which the senators said has been paid more than $1 billion over the past few years for helicopters.

Ukrainian National Security Council chief Andriy Parubiy said he, too, would like Western nations to sanction Rosoboronexport. He said sanctions should go beyond the government officials and businessmen with ties to Mr. Putin who have been targeted so far.

Mr. Parubiy also predicted that Russia will try to destabilize Ukraine ahead of the presidential election in May.

“Their task is to show that the Ukrainian government is illegitimate,” Mr. Parubiy said through a translator, speaking in Kiev in a live webcast interview hosted by the Atlantic Council in Washington.

…U.S. lawmakers say their immediate goal is to prevent further Russian encroachment into Ukraine. The troops amassing along the border have stoked those worries.

Previous assessments estimated 30,000 troops on the border, conducting what Moscow called training exercises. But Pentagon officials told senior Republicans this week that as many as 80,000 troops may be stationed at the border.

Republicans have called for the U.S. to stiffen its own military posture in the region.

Intelligence community sources said they take the potential threat of a Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine seriously.

The U.N. General Assembly’s vote Thursday declared the independence referendum and Russian annexation invalid. The 100-11 vote, with 58 countries abstaining, is nonbinding, but Ukrainian officials said it showed Russia is isolated.

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