Russian President Vladimir Putin told his government on Tuesday to prepare retaliatory actions towards the European Union and the United States for imposing tougher sector based sanctions on Russia last week as thousands of Russian troops on Tuesday were ordered to mobilize along the Russian-Ukrainian border to conduct military exercises, raising concerns about a potential Russian ground invasion.
Moscow’s retaliatory sanction list against western nations includes banning European airlines from flying over Siberia on international routes, western accounting firms operating in Russia, Ukrainian dairy products, Australian beef, and possibly banning chickens from the United States, according to Russian news sources.
Earlier this week, Japan joined the growing list of western countries seeking to impose sanctions on Russia. Japan imposed sanctions on Russian individuals and specific Russian assets.
During the past several weeks, Ukrainian troops in eastern Ukraine have displayed more tact and skill in military campaigns against pro-Russian separatists across eastern Ukraine and have pushed the separatists out of some separatist held regions.
Regaining control over Slavyansk in early July proved to be a major turning point for Ukraine’s military that is working to contain the separatists to the separatist controlled region of Donetsk where Malaysian Airlines MH 17 was downed in mid-July, killing nearly 300 passengers.
Western intelligence and NATO maintain that Russia continues to provide separatists in Ukraine with military equipment and support, a claim that Moscow denies.
Recently, Russia has re-deployed between 10,000 to 20,000 troops along the border after pulling many Russian troops back in May to help deescalate tensions after facing widespread criticism.
On Tuesday Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo, U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, spoke at a UN Security Council Briefing on Ukraine and said that the violence would end if Russia would do more to stop supporting the separatists in Ukraine and implement Ukraine President Poroshenko’s peace plan.
“The surest way to end the violence is for Russia to stop the flow of fighters, weapons and money from Russia into eastern Ukraine. Russia has the ability to get the separatists it supports to lay down their arms, sit at the negotiating table, and work to implement President Poroshenko’s peace plan” DiCarlo said.
“Yet instead of positive steps, Russia has nearly doubled the number of its battalions near the Ukrainian border. Equally troubling is Russia’s plan to conduct a large military exercise near the Ukrainian border, which can only serve to escalate tensions” DiCarlo added.
As fighting escalates between Ukrainian forces and separatists, thousands of Ukrainian citizens have become refugees and fled into neighboring regions.
According to the UN, the number of Ukrainians fleeing the war in eastern Ukraine has increased from 2,600 to 102,600 over the past two months with 168,000 refugees crossing into Russia.
Western military officials are concerned that Russia may seek to deploy thousands of troops along the border into Ukraine under the pretext of using troops to establish a humanitarian operation and work to stabilize the region.