Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty quotes Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center Associate Director Alina Polyakova on NATO’s growing concerns as Russia builds a military base near Ukraine:
Alina Polyakova, an associate director at the Atlantic Council in Washington, said that while the report is thorough, it offers little new.
“The buildup of these kinds of bases along the Ukraine-Russian border has already been quite well documented. And so, this has been going since the beginning of the conflict, basically starting right after the annexation of Crimea,” Polyakova told RFE/RL.
Russia covertly occupied then annexed heavily Russian-speaking Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014, and Western governments accuse it of participation in an armed separatism campaign in eastern Ukraine. Moscow has also periodically deployed increased numbers of troops to areas near the Ukrainian border throughout the 17-month-old conflict.
Polyakova added that “the way we know this [buildup] is happening is in a very basic way. You can look at Google Earth, for example, images before and after, and you can see that as before this area of western Russia was just empty fields, you know, one year later. So if you look at 2013, 2014, even for example not even going to 2015, we see a mass buildup of construction zones and military bases within Russia right on the border with Ukraine.”
Russia denies directly sending soldiers to fight in eastern Ukraine, despite mounting evidence to the contrary.
Polyakova was one of the authors of an Atlantic Council report released in May titled Hiding In Plain Site: Putin’s War in Ukraine, which documented alleged Russian military involvement in eastern Ukraine.
“We documented very clearly the buildup of bases and also how Russia has been using these bases as staging points for training soldiers and then deploying them at key moments during battles in eastern Ukraine,” Polyakova said.
The European Union, United States, and other countries have slapped economic, visa, and other sanctions on Russia and some Russian and Crimean officials in an effort to punish Moscow for its policies in Ukraine.
But with little fear of more serious Western reprisals, Polyakova said, Russian President Vladimir Putin is being more brazen now.
“I think there’s awareness in the Kremlin that they can keep pushing this line, almost essentially being out in the open about what they’re doing in eastern Ukraine, and they’re not going to face much pushback,” Polyakova said.
Polyakova pointed to a Daily Beast report in June saying a drone in Ukraine had documented a Russian military base being built there.