KIEV (AFP) – Ukraine said Russia has thousands of troops in its conflict-ravaged east and vowed to boost its own military capacity, ratcheting up tensions Saturday after Kiev’s new coalition pledged to make joining NATO a priority.
The latest declarations from Ukraine’s defence minister threaten to provoke fresh Russian anger as the government in the former Soviet state flags its allegiance to the West ever more clearly.
Russia denies providing military support to pro-Moscow separatists fighting Ukrainian forces in the east, where nearly 1,000 people have died since a ceasefire was implemented in September.
“Unfortunately, the stabilisation of the situation in the east of Ukraine does not depend only on us,” Defence Minister Stepan Poltorak said in a statement.
“The presence of 7,500 representatives of Russian armed forces in Ukraine destabilises the situation and prevents us from stabilising it.”
Cash-strapped Ukraine also plans to “increase the strength of the armed forces” and boost levels of arms and equipment, Poltorak said, pledging this would take place “in the nearest time” but not giving a specific timeframe.
His comments came after Ukraine’s new coalition declared that joining NATO was a priority and stipulated that a law be passed by the end of the year confirming the country’s intention to push for membership.