Ukraine says Russia has kept tens of thousands of troops near its border following military exercises, in what Kyiv described as part of Moscow’s attempts to exert pressure on its neighbor.
The number of Russian troops not far from the Ukrainian border and in areas controlled by Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine now totals 90,000, the Defense Ministry said on November 3.
The ministry said specifically that units of the Russian 41st army remained in the Russian town of Yelnya, about 260 kilometers north of the Ukrainian border, after Russia’s armed forces recently held a series of large-scale drills.
"It should be noted that the Russian Federation periodically resorted to the practice of transferring and accumulating military units in order to maintain tensions in the region and political pressure on neighboring countries," it said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a conference call with reporters that Russia “maintains a troop presence on its territory wherever it deems necessary.”
This spring, a massive buildup of Russian troops in the country’s west alarmed Kyiv and its Western backers and fueled fears of an escalation of large-scale hostilities. Moscow later said it ordered the troops back to base.
Relations between Kyiv and Moscow have plummeted since 2014, when Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula and a war broke out between Ukrainian government forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. The fighting has claimed the lives of 13,200 people.
Earlier this week, the U.S. news outlet Politico reported that commercial satellite photos supplied by the U.S. space company Maxar Technologies showed around 1,000 military vehicles near the Russian town of Yelnya.
"Based on a review of recent satellite images, the equipment (which includes tanks, armored personnel carriers, self-propelled artillery, and associated support equipment) likely began arriving in the area in late September," Maxar said in an e-mailed comment.
At the time, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said it had not observed any Russian military buildup near the border.