RUSSIA is building an army base near its border with Ukraine, the latest in a chain of new military sites along what the Kremlin sees as its frontline in a growing confrontation with NATO.
While there have been no clashes between the former Cold War rivals, Russia is building up forces on its western frontiers at a time when the NATO alliance is staging major military exercises and increasing deployments on its eastern flank.
A Reuters reporter who visited the Russian town of Klintsy, about 50 km (30 miles) from Ukraine, saw a makeshift army camp, large numbers of newly-arrived servicemen and military vehicles.
Two soldiers in camouflage gear who were manning a checkpoint in a forest turned the reporter away, saying they were guarding a “special military site”.
Last year, Reuters also reported on construction of two other bases further to the south on Russia’s border with Ukraine.
The defense ministry has not acknowledged the deployment of troops to Klintsy, which usually serves as a stop for truck drivers traveling between Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.
However, a town council official said Klintsy had been chosen as the site of a newly-formed division, and that so far about 240 soldiers had arrived. “What’s to hide? That they’ve come? They’ve arrived,” said council deputy chairman Oleg Kletny. “They’re going to be garrisoned here.”
When completed, the base will be the latest component in a build-up of forces along a line running from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south.
On the western side of the line, NATO has been rotating troops and equipment in greater numbers to members states that were part of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact during the Cold War.
The Western alliance, which says it’s responding to Russian military intervention in Ukraine, was this week staging one of its biggest exercises in eastern Europe since the end of the Cold War.
To the east, Russia is building up its own forces, saying it needs to protect itself from NATO’s eastward advance.
Each side says it is only responding to steps taken by the other, but the build-up risks locking NATO and Russia into a spiral of measure and counter-measure from which it will be difficult to escape.
Russia and NATO member states share borders around the Baltic Sea, while further south the two blocs are separated by Ukraine and Belarus.
But since Ukraine’s pro-Moscow president was ousted in a popular uprising two years ago and replaced with a Western-leaning administration, the perception in Moscow is that Ukraine has become, de facto, a NATO satellite.