Russia is preparing Crimea for the potential storage of nuclear weapons, according to Ukrainian Defense Minister Andrey Taran. He claimed that troops based in the region may “undertake substantive military provocations” this year.
Speaking to the European Parliament’s defense subcommittee on Wednesday, Taran also suggested that Russia had amassed 110,000 soldiers on the Ukrainian border – far higher than previous estimates.
“Crimea’s infrastructure is being prepared for potentially storing nuclear weapons,” Taran told the committee. “The very presence of nuclear munitions in the peninsula may spark a whole array of complex political, legal and moral problems.”
This is not the first time Taran has speculated on the topic. Last December, he claimed that “Russia’s preparation for the deployment of nuclear weapons in Crimea poses a serious threat to the whole of Europe and the civilized world.”
Relations between Moscow and Kiev have deteriorated since March 2014, when Crimea was reabsorbed into Russia after a referendum. The vote is not recognized by most of the world, which views it as an illegally-occupied Ukrainian peninsula.
In the region itself, local politicians have dismissed Taran’s claims, stating that the minister has absolutely no evidence for his suggestions.
“There are quite a lot of similar unsubstantiated statements from Ukrainian politicians and state officials. This is all just more nonsense,” said Yury Gempel, the head of the Crimean parliament’s committee on diplomacy and interethnic relations, who also noted that it is Russia’s “sovereign right” to place its weapons anywhere on its own territory.
Another politician, MP Andrey Kozenko, joked that Taran may have accidentally mistaken the construction of hospitals, schools, and landscaping as preparation for the deployment of nuclear weapons.
“Taran should not go to the European Parliament, but to the office of a psychotherapist,” Kozenko said. “Russia really has powerful military potential and, if it wanted to, it could deploy nuclear warheads in Crimea, and Kiev would be the last to know about it.”
In recent weeks, tensions between Ukraine and Russia have increased significantly, with fears rising that a conflict may be around the corner. Both nations have been building up their military presence on the border that separates them, with Kiev claiming Moscow had amassed around 110,000 troops there. Previous estimates from other sources, such as the New York Times, quoted a figure of approximately 4,000. In response, Russia pointed the finger at NATO, claiming that foreign troops are constantly performing military drills with their Ukrainian counterparts.
On Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Western worries about troop movements in Russia were unfounded.
“The concerns of anyone, including the United States, in regards with the movements of our own Armed Forces on the territory of Russia, we believe, are groundless,” he said.
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