The leaders of the U.S. and Canada are taking Russia’s recent military buildup in strategic locations near the Ukrainian border more seriously. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama have both made statements recently that indicate a level of concern higher than that they had expressed in weeks previous. The world leaders’ statements are now closer to those of NATO commanders, who have been making strong statements warning about possible Russian incursions into several locations, including Eastern Ukraine.
Harper said the Canadian government was “worried about their intentions” and that the G7 was “very concerned” that the Russians did not intend to stop at Crimea. Russia’s explicit statements that they will go no further in their expansion, Harper said, “gives us no confidence.”
Russia recently made claims to owning parts of the Arctic, as well. Canada does not recognize these claims. Conservative MP James Bazan commented on the Arctic claims, saying, “If Russia has these ideas of increasing territory,” Canada and all its allies needed to keep their relationships tight.
Canadian analysts, such as Ivan Katchanocksi, a professor of political studies at University of Ottowa, do not think that an invasion to Ukraine–which Katchanocksi thinks is likely–alone will be enough to bring anything more than sanctions from the Canadian government. Any military involvement by the West for the sake of Ukraine alone is, Katchanocksi said, “not realistic.” These sentiments accord with those of U.S. President Obama, who last week clearly stated that the U.S. would not move into Ukraine, and that such an action “would not be appropriate” and “would not good for Ukraine.”
However, Obama, who was asked Thursday what America would do if Russia made further attempts to annex land, stated that if a NATO country was involved, the U.S. would defend that country with force.
Obama is still hoping for a peaceful resolution to the Crimean conflict, though. Tuesday, Obama stated at the Hague that Russia still had a way out of the tensions, which was to negotiate with Kiev and “act responsibly,” although the president also said that it would be “dishonest to suggest there is a simple solution to resolving” what had already happened in Crimea. Obama said the consequences for not heeding international norms would be “additional costs” for Russia.
U.S. Vice President John Kerry, who recently visited various locations in Eastern Europe, also expressed concern about Russian troop buildups on the Ukrainian border.
A classified U.S. intelligence assessment reported on Thursday also indicates that the U.S. is taking the Russian threat more seriously. Two U.S. security officials, interviewed by CNN on the condition of anonymity, stated that U.S. thinking has “shifted” and that the likelihood of Russian incursion into other nations is “more probable” than previously thought. House Armed Services Committee members were also feeling “urgency and alarm,” CNN reported.
NATO’s top military commanders have made several public statements in past weeks warning of the potential for further aggression from Russia.
These shifts in thinking have been in part a reaction to the 30,000–U.S. estimates–Russian troops amassed about an hour or two from Ukraine’s border, which, U.S. officials have stated, are “significantly more” than would be appropriate for the military exercises that the Russian government has explained is the purpose of the buildup. The force is large enough, according to CNN’s interviewee, that they “could move against Ukraine any time now,” and pointed at three cities Russia might go after in an attack: Kharkiv, Luhansk and Donesk, which would create a land-bridge between Russia and Crimea. If Russia were to move, the attack would happen so suddenly that international forces would have no time to do anything but watch it happen, according to U.S. intelligence.
In the last 10 days Russia moved 10,000 troops to the border, along with air defense artillery and military vehicles. This force compliments the 20,000 troops who were already stationed in the region.
Ukraine’s government has been calling for assistance from the U.S. and other allies as it has been hurrying to prepare its military forces to “combat readiness.” Recently, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arsiniy Yatsenyuk stated to PBS that Ukraine needs “technology and military support” to ready its military and mobilize for defense. The Ukrainian leader stated that if Russia invades any other part of Ukraine, “We will fight,” and that it was Ukrainians duty to protect their country.
By Day Blakely Donaldson