Russia is reportedly sending a new round of combat troops and military equipment into Ukraine, as NATO officials fear that Russia could soon be launching nuclear strikes in the country.
Last week, there were reports that Russia was seen sending a convoy of tanks and troops into Ukraine, and on Wednesday, new reports emerged of a troop buildup in a contested region of Ukraine. There were also reports of heavy artillery fire near the Ukrainian city of Donetsk, which has been held by pro-Moscow rebels.
“Russian tanks, Russian artillery, Russian air defense systems and Russian combat troops” were seen, said U.S. Gen Philip Breedlove, the top NATO commander in Europe.
The United Nations Security Council is planning to hold an emergency session on Wednesday to discuss the Russian troop buildup.
The new troops come after what seemed to be an ease of tensions in the Ukrainian conflict. Russian troops who entered the country in August had mostly withdrawn, though scattered fighting still took place between rebels and the Ukrainian government.
NATO now fears that the conflict could escalate further. Breedlove confirmed that NATO believes Russia is sending nuclear weapons into the Crimea region of Ukraine, including short-range Iskander ballistic missiles possibly equipped with nuclear warheads. The Russian buildup was a big concern in the region, which could erupt into full-scale warfare at any time.
“As to their intent, I’m not sure. My strategic team believes that there is a possibility that, as you know, this pocket of separatist Russian-backed forces and Russian forces in the east of Ukraine – it’s not a very contiguous pocket,” Breedlove said. “There are lines of communications that are interrupted. There are airports that are not held by the Russian-backed forces etc.”
There are already fears across Europe that Russia could be sparking a wider conflict. The nation has sent dozens of fighter jets and warplanes toward neighboring countries in the Baltics in what appears to be a test of NATO defenses, and sources indicated earlier this year that President Vladimir Putin had already threatened to launch nuclear weapons in Ukraine if the conflict dragged on too long.