Ukraine: 120,000 Russian troops in the east — and a new study says it’s clear for how long

Updated at 11:21 a.m. Feb. 9 with an outside comment from U.S. Central Command.

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said Saturday a separate study by Ukrainian intelligence claims 120,000 Russian troops are operating on its border. The report includes Russian combat helicopters, armored vehicles and tanks “in mass units,” the ministry said in a statement.

U.S. Central Command said it is aware of the Russian estimates but said U.S. and NATO forces “have a layered defense in place to deny any incursion by Russia.”

Ukraine has an array of defense capabilities and plans to maintain a near constant threat level against Russia, Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak told reporters Saturday.

Poltorak’s comments at a press conference were prompted by a claim by the defense minister’s spokesman that unnamed Ukrainian military sources said that Russia has deployed 240,000 troops near the Ukrainian border and 20,000 to 30,000 special units.

The Defence Ministry cited a report of the new analysis by the Center for Strategic Research and Analysis, a Kiev think tank.

The Ukraine-U.S. Spalny Channel, which first reported on the new study, said the figures are based on a cross-border assessment by General Ion Mihai Bauman of the Ukrainian Military Command.

In Washington, Central Command spokesman Army Col. Rob Manning said U.S. forces are “committed to defending and ensuring the protection of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine” and “remain focused on the defense of the eastern border.”

“Over the course of the year, NATO has deployed more than 1,500 military personnel, over 600 military equipment containers, as well as more than 150 military aviation aircraft and 1,250 military vehicles in support of the operation in Ukraine,” Manning said.

Based on past practice, the Russian military is “taking a lot of this information and stuff and then citing it to make claims to do anything but deniability,” retired U.S. Army Col. Andrew Brookes, now a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, said.

The information would have come from a party “who would know this stuff was there but is worried about it, so they seek to mitigate it,” Brookes said.

In a separate report released Saturday, the Russian branch of the U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty cited an anonymous senior Ukrainian intelligence official as saying the country’s military has prepared an “A-list” of six potential targets for Russian aggression in the event of an attack by Russian or pro-Russian forces. Those targets are military and government facilities in the Ukrainian Far East, according to the report.

Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of massing troops near the border with military exercises and allegedly preparing to invade the eastern part of the country to allow Russian military units to recapture the cities of Donbass, which pro-Russian separatists lost in two years of fighting in 2014 and 2015.

In the report, RA/RL said the Ukrainian military has submitted to the Russian Ministry of Defense a database detailing the sites where troops have had recent combat experience and the amount of explosives the bases are equipped with.

Igor Sutyagin, a fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London, told RA/RL that the army’s database of troop bases, “is almost similar to Russian troops’ logbooks and cannot be falsified.”

The RA/RL report said the Ukrainian bases include sites in the northern Kostroma region, south of Ukraine’s border with Belarus, and in the Caspian Sea coastal regions of Cossack Region and Theodosia.

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