Ukraine’s military chief: ‘Serious deterioration’ in the situation

Ukraine’s armed forces commander said the situation in Ukraine is “seriously deteriorating” and warned Russian involvement in the country’s defense forces is raising serious security concerns.

“To date, no country, other than Russia, has any kind of presence in the eastern part of our country (Ukraine),” Col. Gen. Serhiy Kononenko told parliament in Kiev on Thursday.

“This in itself creates serious security concerns.”

Kononenko said Ukraine’s military had been forced to step up exercises to protect against “the obvious possibility of hostile forces aiming at an intervention,” echoing comments made by Ukraine’s president after Russia’s military intervention in Crimea last February.

Several Ukrainian bases in the southeastern region of Donbass were reportedly attacked by Russian troops last Friday, causing the loss of at least three Ukrainian service personnel.

However, Russian officials later blamed Ukrainian mercenaries for the attack.

Last month Ukraine temporarily suspended the expansion of a naval base in Odessa, as well as an existing air base in Mariupol, over fears Russia may carry out a military campaign to destabilize the whole country.

Such a campaign may serve the interests of Russian officials, Kononenko said, who have been “exercising” regularly since last March, citing an increase in Russian military activity along the Black Sea and in the Sea of Azov, as well as a series of arrests of Ukrainian separatists.

In a series of recent developments, Ukrainian and Western officials have accused the Russian military of practicing offensive operations against Ukraine.

On Friday, the U.S. government announced a decision to postpone a promised $1 billion aid package. Earlier in the week, the European Union imposed sweeping sanctions against key Russian officials and Russian-backed separatists.

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