Russian government spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated that Russia had reinforced its already massive forces along the Ukrainian border in order to protect Russian territory. Western intelligence data estimates the Russian forces currently stationed along the Ukrainian border at 40,000. Peskov referred to the military coup in Ukraine as motive for any country to “naturally… take particular precautionary measures in terms of ensuring its security.”
Putin and the Russian government had in previous months denied that the massing Russian military forces near the Ukrainian border were for anything but military exercises—despite no military exercises being carried out. Saturday, Peskov said that the forces were amassed as a precaution against a possible spreading of the unrest in Southeastern Ukrainian cities into Russia.
In several Southeastern Ukrainian cities, small groups of trained, armed groups of masked forces loyal to Russia have seized government buildings in recent weeks. The forces have called for Russian intervention to hold Crimea-style referendums in order for Ukrainian provinces to secede from Ukraine and join Russia.
Putin recently announced that Russia had invaded Crimea, contradicting his own strong denials of such an action over the past months, as well as the denials of other Russian officials and the offended stance the Russian government had taken in response to major condemnation of its illegal actions. Peskov explained Saturday that the use of Russian forces in Crimea as an “act of protection of Russian people” and the right of those Russians to have a referendum, echoing Putin’s admissions last week.
Last week, Putin continued to deny that similar operations had been taking place in Southeastern Ukraine, although most world governments have pointed to evidence that Russia is in carrying out military operations in Ukraine. Peskov reiterated this denial in his statements Saturday.
The Russian government has also made statements that Russia did not want to enter Ukraine (other than Crimea) and that the Russian government was offended at such accusations. Putin has recently referred to the Southeastern Ukrainian provinces, however, as “New Russia.”
Ousted former President Viktor Yanukovych had been seen as a pro-Russian politician. Yanukovych called off a deal with the European Union in favor of a deal with the Russian government in late 2013. Pro-European Ukrainians turned out in massive numbers to protest against the Yanukovych government in Kiev and other cities. The protests became known as Maidan protests, named after the Maidan Independence Square in Kiev.
Voting in Ukraine is divided significantly along ethnic lines. The majority of opposition to Yanukovych was in West Ukraine—said to be pro-European. Support for Yanukovych—enough to elect him democratically in the country—was mainly in the East, where a large Russian ethnic minority and an even larger Russophone Ukrainian population exist.
In response to what it considers aggressive, unpeaceable actions, the U.S. and other interested nations have strengthened economic sanctions against Russia, and some countries have dispatched military equipment to neighboring countries. The U.S. government announced Friday that it was prepared to target even the personal fortune of the Russian president, which is estimated at an equivalent of US $40 billion.
By Day Blakely Donaldson