By Andrius Sytas
RIGA (Reuters) – Russia’s armed forces are positioned to attack Ukraine “at any moment” and are continously being reinforced, Lithuania’s top military officer said on Thursday, echoing warnings from other Western capitals.
Russia’s defence ministry said on Wednesday its forces were pulling back after exercises near Ukraine, but the United States and NATO accused Moscow of increasing its military presence near the border, not withdrawing its troops.
“The army is positioned so it can begin an invasion at any moment, it just needs an attack order”, Lithuanian Chief of Defence Valdemaras Rupsys told Reuters in a telephone interview from Vilnius.
“There are no signs they are withdrawing. But there are signs and data showing that troops at the border are being strengthened with additional capabilities, and units which were away from the border are being moved towards the border”.
Russian forces are positioned to attack from the north, from the east and from Crimea to the south, and a simultaneus attack from all three directions is possible, Rusys said. Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
“There are enough troops for all scenarious, from all-out invasion to taking over some regions”, he added.
An attack on Ukraine would likely lead to more NATO or U.S. troops in the Baltic republic, said Rupsys.
The head of Estonia’s Foreign Intelligence Service said on Wednesday Russia was likely to launch a “limited” military attack against Ukraine. Success for Moscow there would encourage it to increase pressure on the Baltic states, he said.
Unlike the three Baltic republics – Lithuania, Estonia and Lativa – Ukraine is not a NATO member. Russia wants NATO to agree never to admit Ukraine, something the alliance rules out.
The Baltic republics agreed to provide Ukraine with U.S.-made anti-armour and anti-aircraft missiles and NATO members have reinforced them militarily after the Ukraine crisis escalated.
(Reporting by Andrius Sytas in Riga; Editing by Gareth Jones)