Newspaper article International New York Times

Russia Puts More Troops on Border of Ukraine ; Merkel Assails Kremlin, Threatening Economic Retaliation from Europe

Newspaper article International New York Times

Russia Puts More Troops on Border of Ukraine ; Merkel Assails Kremlin, Threatening Economic Retaliation from Europe

Article excerpt

Russia acknowledged significant operations in several regions abutting Ukraine, even as Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany assailed the Kremlin's actions.

The Russian Defense Ministry on Thursday announced new military operations in several regions near the Ukrainian border, even as Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany warned that Moscow could face diplomatic and economic retaliation from a united Europe.

The operations came as Ukraine's acting president, Oleksandr V. Turchynov, said in a statement on his official website that he believed Russian forces massed near the border were "ready to intervene in Ukraine at anytime" and that he hoped diplomatic efforts by Ukraine and sympathetic nations would "stop the aggression."

Underscoring the potential gravity of the troop movements, Russia's senior commander, Valery V. Gerasimov, spoke by telephone Thursday with his NATO counterpart, Gen. Knud Bartles of Denmark, the Interfax news agency reported, citing a defense official. The details of the conversation were not disclosed.

In Moscow, the military acknowledged significant operations involving armored and airborne troops in the Russian regions of Belgorod, Kursk and Rostov, which are next to eastern Ukraine. Many ethnic Russians in that part of Ukraine have protested the new interim government in Ukraine's capital, Kiev, and appealed to Moscow for protection.

A day after a deputy minister denied any military buildup on the border, the Defense Ministry released a series of statements beginning early Thursday that appeared to contradict that denial. They outlined what was described as intensive training of units involving artillery batteries, assault helicopters and at least 10,000 soldiers.

The operations confirmed, at least in part, assertions by Ukrainian leaders on Wednesday that Russia was massing forces, as well as amateur photographs that appeared to show columns of armored vehicles and trucks in a border village called Lopan, only 30 miles from the Ukrainian city Kharkiv. One statement announced that 1,500 paratroopers from Ivanovo, east of Moscow, had parachuted onto a military base in Rostov, not far from the Ukrainian cities Donetsk and Lugansk.

With NATO announcing its own deployments of fighter jets and exercises to countries on Ukraine's western border, the crisis appeared to be worsening despite 11th-hour diplomatic efforts to halt a secession referendum scheduled for Sunday in Crimea. The ouster of the government of Viktor F. Yanukovych and Russia's subsequent intervention in Crimea have deeply divided Russia and the West.

In Berlin, Ms. Merkel underscored the potential risks of what is being called the worst crisis in relations since the end of the Soviet Union. Appearing before Parliament on Thursday, she criticized Russia's actions in some of her toughest language to date, declaring that "the territorial integrity of Ukraine cannot be called into question."

"Ladies and gentlemen, if Russia continues on its course of the past weeks, it will not only be a catastrophe for Ukraine," she said. "We, also as neighbors of Russia, would not only see it as a threat. And it would not only change the European Union's relationship with Russia. No, this would also cause massive damage to Russia, economically and politically."

As Russia's largest trading partner in Europe, Germany is certain to have significant influence on the debate over how to respond to Russia's actions in Ukraine. Some politicians and observers in other European countries and in the United States have suggested that Germany's traditionally close trading and other ties with Russia have made it hesitant to adopt sanctions against the country.

Ms. Merkel's speech, however, suggested that President Vladimir V. …

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