EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell declined to say where he got the 150,000 Russian troop figure from but it is bigger than the 110,000 estimate provided by Ukrainian Defense Minister Andriy Taran on April 14.
Borrell also said Monday that the condition of imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was “critical” and that the 27-nation group would hold the Kremlin accountable for his health and safety.
Despite the tense developments, Borrell said after a virtual meeting of the EU foreign ministers that, “for the time being, there is no move in the field of more sanctions” to be slapped on Russia.
He also said there wasn’t a request for a synchronized EU diplomatic move of expulsions in the standoff between EU member state the Czech Republic and Russia following Prague’s accusation that Moscow was involved in a 2014 explosion of an ammunition depot.
More dangerous at this time, Borrell said, was the massing of Russian troops, including military field hospitals, and “all kinds of warfare.”
“It is the highest military deployment of the Russian army on the Ukrainian borders ever. It’s clear that it’s a matter of concern when you deploy a lot of troops,” Borrell said. “Well, a spark can jump here or there.”
More than 14,000 people have died in the seven years of fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine that erupted after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. The EU has steadfastly opposed the annexation but has been unable to do anything about it.
Efforts to reach a political settlement have stalled and violations of a truce have become increasingly frequent in recent weeks across Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland known as Donbas.
Diplomats have said they will seek to apply more pressure through diplomacy.
And over the weekend, French President Emmanuel Macron said that while dialogue with Russia is essential, “clear red lines” carrying possible sanctions must also be drawn with Moscow over Ukraine.
“All in all, the relations with Russia, are not improving, but the contrary, the tension is increasing in different fronts,” Borrell said.
“We call on Russia to withdraw their troops,” Borrell said.
By Raf Casert