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Putin Escalates Campaign in Ukraine, Testing Biden

Michael Johnson
Ukrainian soldiers work on their tank close to the front line with Russian-backed separatists in the Luganks region on April 7, 2021 (Photo: AFP)

Russia continued a military build-up in eastern Ukraine this week, deploying additional forces to areas it illegally occupies and launching offensive military exercises in the region. 

The Russian navy announced Friday that two missile ships, Graivoron and Vyshny Volochek, would conduct surface and aerial target practices in the Black Sea. Other vessels, including a frigate, minesweeping ship, and hovercraft, would also join the training.

In addition, the Kremlin has recently positioned 50,000 additional troops to Ukraine, bringing the total number of Russian forces in Crimea to 40,000 and 40,000 in Donbas. Reports also indicate that more military hardware, including tanks, artillery, and air defenses, were also deployed to Rostov, just across the Russian border. 

“These large-scale troop movements, without prior notification, represent threatening and destabilizing activities,” the G7 announced in a joint statement. The U.S. also said it would deploy two warships to the Black Sea in response to the military build-up and against Moscow’s objections.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba on Tuesday, reaffirming its sovereignty. Later in the day, President Biden spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin about a wide range of topics, including Ukraine. A readout of the call details the President voicing “concerns over the sudden Russian military build-up in occupied Crimea and on Ukraine’s borders, and called on Russia to de-escalate tensions.” Biden also proposed a bilateral summit where the two sides could meet in a third-party country to discuss Ukraine and other issues, such as the New START limiting nuclear weapons. A spokesperson for the Kremlin said it would consider the proposal.

The reasons behind Moscow’s latest escalation in Ukraine remain unclear. Ukraine represents an easy target to test the Biden administration’s security posture and commitment to allies. Additionally, President Putin could also seek to distract the West and its citizens from domestic political concerns and the treatment of opposition figures, such as Alexei Navalny. 

Experts estimate that 14,000 people died as a result of fighting in eastern Ukraine since 2014. Russia’s annexing Crimea and the use of pro-Kremlin militants to take control of eastern Ukraine promoted U.S. and NATO countries to enact sanctions against Russian leaders.