KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s president on Monday hailed the country’s military, saying its forces are capable of fending off a potential attack by Moscow as tensions soar over a Russian troop buildup near the Ukrainian border.
Ukrainian and Western officials are worried that the Russian military concentration could herald plans by the Kremlin to attack its neighbor, a concern that is expected to dominate a call Tuesday between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy praised the country’s army as a “highly capable and highly organized force that is confident in its potential and is able to derail any expansionist plans by the enemy.”
“Ukrainian servicemen are continuing to perform their most important mission — to protect the freedom and sovereignty of the state from the Russian aggressor,” said Zelenskyy, who donned combat fatigues on a visit to troops near the area of a separatist conflict in the country’s east.
The conflict with Russia-backed rebels in Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland erupted weeks after Moscow’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. The fighting has killed more than 14,000 people, and efforts to negotiate a settlement have stalled.
U.S. intelligence officials have determined that Russia has massed about 70,000 troops near its border with Ukraine and has begun planning for a possible invasion as soon as early next year.
Moscow has denied hatching plans to attack Ukraine and rejected the Western concerns as part of efforts to smear Russia.
At the same time, Putin has urged the West to provide guarantees that would exclude Ukraine from joining NATO and the deployment of the alliance’s weapons on its territory.