Ukraine has said reports in Western media that Russia is amassing military aircraft and helicopters on the borders of its country are “incorrect.”
“No one keeps aviation on the border, like tanks or other equipment,” Yuriy Ignat, spokesperson for the Air Force Command of Ukraine’s Armed Forces, told Kyiv Post.
“Russia maintains a large aviation [presence] at 40 airfields around the Ukrainian border, but that doesn't mean it's at the border,” he added.
In a piece titled “Western intelligence shows Russians amassing aircraft on Ukraine border”, the Financial Times (FT) cited two officials who said NATO intelligence showed the Kremlin was moving jets and helicopters with the intention of using them to support its renewed land offensive.
The article quotes a senior American official, saying: “The Russian land forces are pretty depleted so it’s the best indication that they will turn this into an air fight.
“If the Ukrainians are going to survive . . . they need to have as many air defence capabilities and as much ammunition . . . as possible.”
Ignat said: “It is incorrect to say that Russia is pulling aircraft to the borders with Ukraine.
“All airfields are located in Belarus, Russia and occupied Crimea. Different levels of aviation are focused there. Aviation doesn't need to be at the border.
“The only thing is that the Russian Federation can quickly relocate its military air forces from one airfield to another to perform tactical tasks.”
Russia may still be amassing aircraft further away from Ukraine's border, out of range of weapons like HIMARS.
The head of the Pentagon, Lloyd Austin, after the NATO meeting in Brussels on Feb. 14, told reporters that he had not yet observed signs of an imminent “massive aerial attack”, but added: “We want to make sure [Ukraine] has the ability to protect [itself] in the event Russia decides to introduce its air force into the fight.
"We know Russia still has a significant amount of aviation in reserve. That is why we emphasize that we need to do everything possible to give Ukraine as many air defense capabilities as possible," the BBC quoted him as saying.
Ukrainian officials have been keen to downplay the threat of a massive Russian offensive to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the full-scale invasion on Feb. 24, after comments such as those from NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg who last month said that Russia plans to launch a new offensive to control all of Ukraine.
“We see that they [Russians] are preparing for more war, that they are mobilizing more soldiers, more than 200,000, and potentially even more than that,” he said.
Since then, Ukrainian officials have told Kyiv Post that they don’t believe Russia has the resources available to launch a large-scale offensive around Feb. 24.
Andriy Chernyak, a representative of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, claimed rumors and reports of a pending massive attack were misplaced.
He told Kyiv Post: "While information is spreading about a large-scale Russian offensive planned for Feb. 24, Ukraine's military intelligence reports that Russia already launched a full-scale offensive on Feb. 24 last year, which is still ongoing.”
Chernyak did not deny that Russia was planning something in the coming weeks, saying that right now it was “trying to find weaknesses in our defense.”
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