KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine complained Wednesday that Russia has kept tens of thousands of troops not far from the countries’ border after war games, as part of its attempts to exert pressure on its ex-Soviet neighbor.
The Ukrainian Defense Ministry’s statement marked an about-turn from its denial of any Russian military buildup — as reported in U.S. media — just two days earlier.
The ministry said Wednesday that about 90,000 Russian troops are stationed not far from the border and in rebel-controlled areas in Ukraine’s east. It said specifically that units of the Russian 41st army have remained in Yelnya, about 260 kilometers (about 160 miles) north of the Ukrainian border.
“Russia has periodically deployed and built up troops to maintain tensions in the region and exert political pressure on neighboring countries,” it said.
On Tuesday, Ukraine's Defense Minister Andriy Taran submitted his resignation and Ukrainian lawmakers quickly approved it Wednesday. Davyd Arakhamia, the head of the parliamentary faction of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's Servant of the People party, said Taran had health problems.
Ukrainian media reported however that Zelenskyy's office was behind the resignation of Taran and four other ministers, who were also dismissed by parliament on Wednesday.
Russia has cast its weight behind a separatist insurgency in Ukraine's east that erupted shortly after Moscow's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and has left more than 14,000 people dead. Russia has repeatedly denied any presence of its troops in eastern Ukraine.
Earlier this year, a massive buildup of Russian troops in the Russia’s west have raised concern in Ukraine and in the West, fueling fears of an escalation of large-scale hostilities.
Russian officials said the troops were deployed for maneuvers, casting them as part of measures to counter security threats posed by the deployment of NATO forces near Russian borders. Russia and the alliance also have blamed each other for conducting destabilizing military exercises near the borders.
The Kremlin has continuously stated that any troops’ deployments on the territory of Russia is its internal business.
“Russia maintains troops presence on its territory wherever it deems necessary,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday in a conference call with reporters.
Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.
By Yuras Karmanau, The Associated Press