Crimea: How Putin has used his army in Ukraine to win the election

A new defense ministry report stated that Russia recently boosted its forces near the Ukrainian border to 120,000 men, a level considered unfeasible to mobilize them into a combat role.

Ukraine’s state prosecutor’s office on Wednesday announced plans to begin a criminal investigation after Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak said Russian troops had been allowed to move onto Ukrainian soil in violation of the 1998 NATO-Russia agreement.

In another rare outbreak of alarm, Ukraine’s national security council urged armed forces to be cautious of rebels preparing to attack eastern cities at the height of the formal voting period for the presidential election on Sunday.

Kiev had ordered all military units to open fire in defense of central neighborhoods on Monday and Tuesday, but the parliament speaker refused the orders, leaving the military to hold the area until nightfall.

U.S. President Donald Trump called Poroshenko by phone on Wednesday to make clear his support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, White House officials said.

Relations between the two neighbors, who have fought two wars in the last 25 years, have never been warmer.

But in an interview broadcast on Friday on state TV, Poroshenko appeared to allow that the Russia-backed separatists who control parts of the Russian-speaking east might also recognize the election’s legitimacy.

“Everyone is reaching out to everyone … This is something the elections commission is working on,” Poroshenko said.

He has consistently called for negotiations to end the conflict between the army and separatists.

But for the first time since the uprising that led to the flight of Ukraine’s pro-Russian president and brought Poroshenko to power, Russian President Vladimir Putin has appeared in no hurry to help Kiev.

Moscow has instead demanded instead that Kiev end an offensive against separatists in the Donbass region and Kiev officials have confirmed plans to withdraw all its forces from the disputed regions after the presidential vote.

The defense ministry report showed that since October 2016, Russia had created the largest conventional forces of its kind outside the Russian military.

The number of soldiers, tanks, armored vehicles, artillery and air defense systems grew by 30 percent, it said.

The “Cold War operation” in the Belgorod-Frankivsk-Kurgan triangle, where Russia boosted forces near the border with Ukraine from 23,500 to 84,000 troops, was declared a “state secret”.

In response to the incident, Kiev suspended a bilateral framework agreement to prevent troops on both sides from crossing the frontier and an international committee to resolve the conflict was disbanded.

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