The Pentagon said Thursday that the Russian troops along Ukraine’s border represent the most capable force Moscow has deployed to the area since the current crisis began.
The potent border deployment, which is smaller but more dangerous than previous ones, highlighted the degree to which the two sides remain at odds and the difficulty of achieving a cease-fire.
In March, Russia had a far larger force, of more than 50,000, near the Ukrainian border and in Crimea, after the annexation of the peninsula. But the current force, upward of 10,000, contains more artillery, air defense units and rocket units than previous troop buildups, said Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.
In addition, Russia has attached engineering and other combat support units to its border forces, he said.
“The force we see arrayed along the border is exceptionally capable, probably more capable, more lethal than anything we have seen before,” Col. Warren said.
The current force’s ability to carry out “combined arms operations” made it more dangerous than the larger force that was previously on the border, Col. Warren said.
In addition to the forces along the border, Col. Warren said the North Atlantic Treaty Organization estimates there are between 1,000 and 2,000 Russian troops operating inside Ukraine.
Col. Warren wouldn’t detail what the U.S. believes those troops were doing, but reiterated his near daily call for Moscow to withdraw its forces.
“We have been very clear that the Russian responsibility is to contribute to the de-escalation of the situation,” he said.