Ukraine says Russian military build-up is cover for domestic problems

A Ukrainian serviceman holds a position at the front line with Russia-backed separatists. Photo: STR/AFP via Getty Images
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Ukraine believes Russian President Vladimir Putin's government is massing troops and military hardware on the border to try to rally Russians against a foreign enemy and distract from domestic problems, Ukraine's security chief said on Wednesday.

Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of the national security and defence council, said that Ukraine will not try to recapture occupied territory in the eastern Donbass region by force but was ready to defend itself against any further assault.

Ukraine, the United States and the Nato military alliance have accused Russia of staging a provocative military build-up near the Ukrainian border, though Moscow says its forces there are a defensive measure and will remain as long as it sees fit.

Spike in violence

Kyiv and Moscow have traded blame for a recent spike in violence in eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian troops are fighting Russian-backed forces in a conflict that Kyiv says has killed 14,000 people since 2014.


Any further escalation would depend on actions taken by Putin, Danilov said during the interview in his office.

"The question of war depends only on Putin," he said.

"Putin does not feel sorry for people and this is a problem. For us, every loss that is now at the front is pain, for us it is a tragedy."


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Russia is going into election mode ahead of parliamentary polls in September and domestic irritants such as jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny make it easier for Moscow to focus on an external enemy, he said.

"These are internal factors, which, in our opinion, are key," he said. "They invent them (enemies) for themselves and for them the external enemy is an element of solving internal problems."

Putin's ratings slipped last year to their lowest point in two decades, according to an independent Moscow-based pollster, but they have since recovered to around 64%.

The Kremlin said on Wednesday that Russia would keep military forces near its border with Ukraine for as long as necessary. A top security official said Russia had no plans to intervene in Ukraine but was closely monitoring the situation and ready to take measures if needed.

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