Ukraine Russia crisis: Russian build-up continues, but insufficient for full-scale invasion, Ukrainian military intelligence says

The total number of Russian troops at the border has increased in recent days to more than 148,000, including more than 126,000 ground troops, the report says, echoing US intelligence about the build-up. A Ukrainian presidential spokesperson affirmed the reporting in comments to CNN ahead of an address by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow was sending some of his troops at the border back to base after completing exercises. On Wednesday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg rejected Putin’s claim and said the military buildup was continuing, describing it as “the most serious crisis in decades.”

A statement by NATO later on Wednesday said the buildup was “very large scale, unprovoked and unjustified.” NATO also said it was deploying additional land forces in the eastern part of the alliance, in addition to maritime and air assets. The measures, the statement said, remained “proportionate” and “non-escalatory,” in response to the “serious threat” of the Russian troop buildup.

“Unfortunately there’s a difference between what Russia says and what it does. And what we’re seeing is no meaningful pullback,” Blinken said on ABC’s Good Morning America.

“On the contrary, we continue to see forces, especially forces that would be in the vanguard of any renewed aggression against Ukraine, continuing to be at the border, to mass at the border,” he said.

According to the new Ukrainian intelligence report, 87 Russian Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs) are on constant alert around Ukraine, up from 53 which are usually based in the area. BTGs are formations that consist of 800 to 1,000 Russian troops.

The numbers are consistent with the latest US assessment of the Russian troop buildup, but deviates from Western statements by playing down the threat of a full-scale invasion.

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“The Russian military contingent near the Ukrainian border is insufficient to carry out a successful large-scale armed aggression against Ukraine,” the report said.

Instead, Ukrainian intelligence believes that Russia has focused its efforts on “destabilizing Ukraine’s internal situation” using punitive economic and energy-related tactics, as well as cyberattacks.

Largest cyberattack of its kind

A high-volume cyberattack that temporarily blocked access to the websites of Ukrainian defense agencies and banks on Tuesday was “the largest (such attack) in the history of Ukraine,” according to a government minister.

Speaking at a press conference Wednesday, Vice Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov, who is also the minister of digital transformation, added that it is too early to tell who was responsible for the attack.

The so-called distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack — which bombarded Ukrainian websites with phony traffic — was coordinated and well planned, officials said.

DDoS attacks often disrupt access to IT systems, but their impact can be more psychological rather than having any direct effect on a country’s critical infrastructure.

‘Day of Unity’

Meanwhile on Wednesday, Ukraine marked a so-called “Day of Unity” — called for by Zelensky — as a show of defiance against Russia.

Hundreds of people observed flag-raising ceremonies in some of Ukraine’s city centers.

“This gathering is how we show our power to Putin,” Lviv regional governor Maksym Kozytskyy told CNN.

Speaking from the port city of Mariupol, which is believed to be vulnerable to attack in the case of an invasion, Zelensky vowed to “not succumb” to Russian provocations.

“We are not intimidated by any predictions (of war), any people, enemies, or any dates, because we will defend ourselves, whether it’s February 16th, 17th, or 18th — in March or April or September or December,” he said.

“What’s important is this is the year 2022, not 2014. We’ve become much stronger,” Zelensky added, referring to Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Ukraine blamed Russia for Tuesday’s cyberattack. Authorities have only raised the possibility that Moscow could have been behind the incident.

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