By Martin Matishak - 08/06/14 10:00 AM EDT
Russia has 20,000 troops massed near Ukraine’s eastern border, NATO warned Wednesday, expressing concerns that Moscow could invade its neighbor.
"We're not going to guess what's on Russia's mind, but we can see what Russia is doing on the ground — and that is of great concern. Russia has amassed around 20,000 combat-ready troops on Ukraine’s eastern border," a NATO spokeswoman said in email statement to Reuters.
The warning is the latest from NATO, which has repeatedly expressed worries about Russia’s troop buildup on the border with Ukraine. During the spring, Russia sent around 40,000 troops to the border. That force was drawdown to less than 1,000 before the recent buildup.
Earlier this week, Russia's defense ministry announced that around 100 fighter jets and bombers would conduct military exercises near the border.
Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby on Tuesday also raised concerns about the buildup.
He described the units as being “very capable and very ready across what we call combined arms capabilities, armor, artillery, air defense, special forces,” noting that that they are closer to the border than they were in the spring.
Their presence is “doing nothing but continuing to escalate the tension that exists inside eastern Ukraine,” Kirby told reporters during a press briefing.
The buildup is also likely to raise pressure on Capitol Hill for the U.S. to ramp up military assistance to Ukraine.
Last month, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) broke with the Obama administration and called for supplying Ukraine’s military with lethal weapons in advance of a possible ground invasion.
Levin predicted that Moscow would use a “flimsy excuse” to move across the border.