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By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
KYIV, UKRAINE (BosNewsLife)– Russia says it is carrying out massive new military exercises close to the border with Ukraine in response to what Moscow views as “provocative actions” by the NATO military alliance in neighbouring states.
The buildup of Russian forces comes while in eastern Ukraine government forces are recapturing territory from pro-Russian rebels.
More than 100 bombers and fighter jets are taking part in Russian military movements in Russia’s central and western regions near the border with Ukraine. Thousands of troops are already stationed there.
Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier pledged what he called an “adequate and well-measured response” to NATO building up its forces in Eastern Europe, including in Poland, the Black Sea and Baltic Sea.
Just before Moscow’s latest manoeuvres began, the NATO military alliance already expressed concern about what it views as the worst East-West tensions since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Russia is no longer a partner as it views NATO as an enemy, annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and supports pro-Russian separatists. “We have spent more than 20 years trying to build a constructive relationship with Russia. But I have to say that Russia doesn’t behave as a partner,” he told Euronews television.
“And we can see in the Russian military documents that they consider NATO an adversary, so of course we have to adapt to that,” Rasmussen said.
“We have seen Russian armed forces act very swiftly. We have seen more modern Russian armed forces compared to what we saw when they attacked Georgia in 2008.”
And, he warned. that while Russia has increased its defence spending by 50 percent over the last five years, NATO member states on average decreased defence spending by 20 percent. He said “it was time to reverse that trend and gradually increase defence spending,” despite economic difficulties in several countries.
The pressure to modernize NATO forces comes while fighting in eastern Ukraine has intensified between government forces and pro-Russian rebels. Moscow denies supplying the rebels with weapons, but the West has raised doubts.
Despite difficulties, Kiev is stepping up a campaign against the separatists in their two main strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk. The human toll has become evident in the war, even thousands of kilometers away.
In the Netherlands another military transport plane arrived carrying a wooden coffin with human remains of one or more victims of the Malaysian Airlines aircraft which was shot down last month over Ukraine, allegedly by pro-Russian rebels.
Nearly 300 people, most of them Dutch nationals, died in the disaster.