Conflict & Justice

As the Russian threat grows, Ukraine holds a pledge drive to raise funds for the army


Russia has acquired control of considerable amounts of Ukrainian military equipment in Crimea. Here Russian soldiers are loading Ukrainian tanks onto a train in northern Crimea (Thursday).


REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis

President Barack Obama bluntly called on Russia to pull its troops back from the border with Ukraine on Friday.

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

They're supposedly there as part of a routine exercise. But US intelligence officials have reportedly concluded that those Russian forces are ready to invade eastern Ukraine at any time, if ordered.

Perhaps 50,000 troops are said to be camped near the border. They’re allegedly setting up field hospitals, even. Supplies are being brought in by the trainload and stockpiled.

Also Friday, Ukraine's ousted president resurfaced. Viktor Yanukovych called for all Ukrainian regions to hold a referendum on their own future. That's what Crimea did — before Russia quickly annexed the region.

None of that will sound reassuring to Ukraine's interim leaders in Kiev.

BuzzFeed reporter Max Seddon says uncertainty reigns in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev. “It’s really impossible to know what’s happening at the moment.”

He says the Kiev government has said several times over the past few weeks that a Russian invasion was imminent. “It’s something we feel could happen any time,” says Seddon. But he adds that “no-one has a good grip on how or why.”

The key question, Seddon says, is whether the government in Kiev is ready to react. “They and their western partners were caught completely flat-footed by the Russian invasion of Crimea.”

Seddon spoke with numerous Ukrainian military commanders who were in Crimea and say there was a complete failure of leadership in Kiev. “They (the government) really abandoned them and didn’t want to give them specific orders, because they were too scared of taking responsibility, in case something went wrong.”  

“The question now,” he says, “is that — now they’ve had time to re-group — can they correct those mistakes, and be prepared for anything Russia might do in the east.”

But Ukraine’s options are limited. Seddon says they are trying to stop the infiltration of Russian “diversion groups” who might try to stir up trouble in eastern and southern cities. But he says if Russian tanks come in, there’s almost nothing they can do.

The country is broke, and Seddon says the Ukrainian military is so starved for cash that right now they are taking 50 cent donations over the phone to raise money.