Russia has moved medical supplies – including supplies of blood – to sites along the border with Ukraine in another indicator of its military readiness to launch an attack on its neighbor, three US officials told Reuters this weekend.
“If true, then we are starting to see key indicators of Russian preparations for a large-scale military operation, expecting casualties, etc.,” tweeted Michael Kofman, Director of Russia Studies at CAN and a Senior Adjunct Fellow at CNAS. “Still missing certain elements, but the picture is tracking with Russia potentially able to conduct a mil op within a few weeks,” he wrote, adding in a separate tweet: “One of the key indicators would be personnel arriving to fall in on prepositioned equipment.”
Russian military troops have already deployed more than 100,000 troops to the Ukraine border, including ground forces, air forces, naval forces, special forces, cyber electronic warfare, command and control, logistics, engineers and other capabilities, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin somberly told reporters Friday in a briefing at the Pentagon together with Army General Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Now, medical supplies necessary for treating casualties in combat have been added, Reuters reported.
He noted that for months, Russia has been deploying forces to Crimea and along Ukraine’s border, including in Belarus. “It has progressed at a consistent and steady pace involving tens of thousands of Russian troops, and it is being supported by increased Russia naval activity in the northern Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea.
“While we don’t believe that President [Vladimir] Putin has made a final decision to use these forces against Ukraine, he clearly now has that capability and there are multiple options available to him, including the seizure of cities and significant territories, but also coercive acts or provocative political acts like the recognition of breakaway territories.”
Austin said the US “remains focused” on “Russian disinformation, including the potential creation of pretext for further invasion or strikes,” but added, “Conflict is not inevitable. There is still time and space for diplomacy.”
Another arms shipment to Ukraine arrived Friday from the United States, Austin noted, the third such shipment within a week’s time.
The US also placed thousands of troops on ‘prepare to deploy’ orders earlier this week, Austin told reporters. In fact, 8,500 active-duty troops have been told to be ready to deploy. “If NATO activates its response forces, these troops will be ready to go now,” he said.
He denied the US having “any intent” to attack Russia, “and I don’t think that’s NATO’s intent at all,” he told a reporter in answer to a question. “This is entirely engineered by Russia and President Putin as an overt act of coercion against Ukraine.”
Milley told another reporter, “There’s a potential that they could launch on very, very little warning. That’s possible, and there’s a wide scale of options that are available to Russian leadership.”
Putin can “do the right thing,” both men said, by choosing to deescalate, “order his troops away.” He can “choose dialogue and diplomacy, whatever he decides,” Austin said.
“Ukraine has the right to be independent, and they have been an independent country since 1991,” he pointed out. “Russia signed the Budapest Memorandum in 1994 with the United States and Great Britain that guaranteed the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine. It’s the policy of the United States government to continue to support an independent Ukraine and their goals and we are continuing our efforts to enhance their ability to protect themselves.
“We strongly encourage Russia to stand down and to pursue a resolution through diplomacy. Armed force should always be the last resort; success here is through dialogue.”
Ukraine is the second largest country in Europe with a population of 44 million, with a military of some 150,000 active-duty service members, plus more in the reserves.
“Their combat capabilities have improved since 2014, when Russia annexed illegally Crimea but they need additional help to defend themselves, especially from an invasion force,” Milley said.
“As mentioned by the secretary, an attack against one NATO ally is an attack against all NATO, which has significant military capability.”