Russian Troops Mass at Border With Ukraine
The Russians continued to deny the Times's definition of reality, which President Obama said "we have seen" massing along that border under the guise of military exercises." Whatever the president may have seen, there was no conclusive visual evidence offered to the public. What pictures there have been to date have shown little that could be called "massing," and were often pictures that could have been taken anywhere, any time. That includes the purported classified satellite images tweeted by U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt on April 9 that he claims show a "buildup" near Rostov-on-Don, which is some fifty miles from the Ukraine border.
By the end of March, Ukraine was claiming Russia had 100,000 troops on the border (later reduced to "still over 10,000"), while the Russians were claiming that they had allowed foreign observers to probe border regions four times and that "even Ukrainian inspectors [agreed] there were no major military activities being carried out." Fox News said the Russians were just hiding their troops. The official U.S. estimate of massed Russian troops stabilized at around 40,000 (where it remains), while the European estimate is 30,000. As of April 7, at the joint meeting in Vienna of the Forum for Security Cooperation and the Permanent Council, the U.S. remained officially dissatisfied with Russian responses to formal inquiries as to the precise nature and purpose of forces deployed near the Ukraine border.
The United States currently has 67,000 troops in Europe, far from Ukraine, with 40,000 in Germany, 11,000 in Italy, and 9,500 in Britain. The total in 1991, before the Soviet Union collapsed, was 285,000.
Whatever the reality of the positions of Russian troops in Russia, there's no credible evidence they exist in threatening strength. It could be true, but even those who have looked for them reportedly can't find them. Ukraine is inherently unstable and has long existed in a nearly continuous state of chronic crisis. But the engaged participants all have reasons to perpetuate the spectre of massed Russian troops, whether they're there or not: the Russians for leverage and mystique; the Ukrainians for unity and support; the west for posturing.
And there's another constituency with a clear vested interested in pushing the Russian threat toward a new Cold War: arms makers (excuse me: "defense contractors"). As the NATO secretary general said quite plainly at the NATO Transformation Seminar, April 8:
"The reality is that Europeans have disarmed too much and for too long. In NATO, we have agreed a defence spending guideline of 2% of Gross Domestic Product. Too few Allies meet this guideline. And too many have moved too far in the other direction. This is the time to stop the cuts and start reversing the trend."
From that perspective, there are likely some who are afraid that Russia won't invade Ukraine, or that China won't invade the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands.