Russia to boost Crimea troop numbers, worries over military build-up at borders

Ships of the Black Sea Fleet line up during Navy Day parade rehearsal in Sevastopol. (RIA Novosti/Vasiliy Batanov)
Russia is going to increase its military presence on the Crimean Peninsula as “the situation in Ukraine has escalated sharply,” Russian Defense Minister announced.

The plan released by Sergey Shoigu is due to the increased “presence of foreign military” in “the immediate vicinity” of Russia’s borders.

"The deployment of proper and self-sufficient forces in the direction of Crimea is one of [our] top priorities," he said.

The military-political situation in the southwestern strategic direction has changed significantly since the beginning of the current year. This is largely due to the expansion of the territory of [Russia’s] Southern Military District after Crimea joined Russia,” Shoigu said.

The Russian Defense Ministry will also consider setting up technical missile bases in “each military district.”

"We will discuss proposals to create missile technical bases in each military district. The creation of more autonomous units of storage and transportation [of missiles] will allow us to fully use missile military units when they are used in different operating directions and at a considerable distance from each other," Shoigu said.

Russia's military districts: Blue - West, Green - Center, Orange - East, Brown - South (Updated image from wikipedia.org now shows Crimea as part of South Military District)

In response to the Russian Defense Ministry’s announcement, NATO warned that any increase in Russian troops in the Crimea region “will further undermine the ceasefire currently in place,” Reuters said, citing the alliance’s spokesperson.

"We have seen reports that Russia intends to increase its troop presence in Crimea. Such a move can only increase tensions and it will further undermine the ceasefire currently in place as well as the security of the region, which Russian actions have gravely eroded," NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu told the news agency.

Ukraine is currently hosting military drills code-named “Rapid Trident” that involves a total of 1,300 troops from 15 nations, either active NATO members or would-be members.

Lithuanian servicem walk following the opening ceremony of the "Rapid Trident" military exercises on September 15, 2014. (AFP Photo/Yurko Dyachyshyn)

Earlier NATO announced its plans to expand to Eastern Europe, specifically the three Baltic states – Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. The alliance also said it is working towards the creation of an expeditionary force composed of 10,000 troops from seven different member states.

Russia has warned that NATO’s progress towards the east and Ukraine, which the military bloc sees as a potential member, will trigger a strong reaction.

'We will react to NATO build-up!' Key Putin quotes from defense policy address

In July, Putin said that the alliance’s military build-up near Russia’s borders, which includes a US-built missile defense system, is not just for defensive purposes, but is an “offensive weapon” and an “element of the US offensive system deployed outside the mainland.”