“We don’t know which president [Vladimir] Putin’s intentions are, but we know what happened in the past, “Blinken said on Saturday during a trip to Senegal, referring to Russian military incursions, whether recognized or not, into neighboring countries.
“We know the scenario of trying to cite an illusory provocation from Ukraine or any other country and then use it as an excuse to do what Russia has been planning to do from the start.”
The Kremlin responded by accusing Western countries of “hysteria” over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
With tensions high in the region, CNN joined the Ukrainian Navy ship departing from Berdyansk on the Ukrainian coast of Azov. Usually Commander Ovchar’s crew encounters six or seven Russian Coast Guard patrol boats, he says, but on this mission there were none.
The sea he patrols borders Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula annexed by Moscow following a controversial referendum in 2014, in violation of international law.
Since seizing Crimea, Russia has built a bridge connecting it to its own territory. The Kerch Bridge over the Kerch Strait is the only direct link between Russia and Crimea and gives Moscow de facto control of maritime access to the Black Sea and the Mediterranean beyond.
But Ukraine has a plan to try to prevent Moscow from gaining full control of the body of water that connects Ukraine’s two largest ports, Berdyansk and Mariupol.
Ukraine’s new Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov announced on November 13 that the pace of construction of a new naval port in Berdyansk would be stepped up.
On Tuesday, CNN was granted exclusive access to the “Sehid” or “East” base under construction.
It was immediately clear that there was still a lot of work to be done before this base was almost complete.
The aim was to complete the first phase of construction – new living quarters, administrative buildings and a small medical center on the site of a disused tin factory – by the end of the year. However, within six weeks of arrival there was not even a roof over the main building.
A special detachment of military builders worked hard with masonry, knocking on cement and laying bricks, a Ukrainian flag fluttering as they worked.
The scale of the task at hand became even more difficult as we descended on the port, connected to a commercial port.
“This will be the position of the docks,” said Captain 2nd Class Alexander Serdiyk, pointing to piles of warped metal and boulders lying haphazardly in the sea. “We plan to complete this section in two years.”
But Ukraine may not have two years to prepare for conflict.
The Kremlin has repeatedly stated that it has no intention of invading Ukraine.
“The American and Ukrainian media claim that Russia is preparing for an attack on Ukraine, and we say that Ukraine is planning hostilities against Donbass, against the self-proclaimed Lugansk and Donetsk republics,” Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday. , Putin’s spokesperson. . “We are deeply concerned about the provocative actions of the Ukrainian armed forces on the line of contact and the preparations for an attempt to resolve the Donbass problem by force.”
Ukraine’s allies have started to respond to what they see as a new threat from its eastern neighbor.
The United States is also considering sanctions with its European allies if Russia invades Ukraine.
Last week, British Defense Minister Ben Wallace visited Ukraine and signed an agreement to “develop the capabilities of Ukrainian naval forces”. CNN learned on Tuesday that part of the deal will focus on Berdyansk.
On the same day, the Ukrainian navy announced the arrival of two “island-type” ships named “Fastiv” and “Sumy”, delivered from Baltimore in the United States to Odessa in Ukraine.
“Soon the ships will fly the Ukrainian Navy flag and under the command of Ukrainian crews they will begin their combat journey to ensure maritime security in the Black and Azov Seas,” Admiral Alexey Neizhpapa said.
The bigger question is whether Ukraine’s new ships and infrastructure, as well as warnings from the West, will be enough of a deterrent.