The Russian military is reportedly bolstering its Crimean defenses amid reports Ukraine’s western allies are warming to the country retaking Crimea after nearly a decade under Russian occupation.
In nationally televised remarks Thursday, Vadym Skibitskyi, representative of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, claimed military intelligence in the region showed forces in the peninsula remained in constant combat readiness while, in some sectors, Russian forces had been seen digging trenches on beaches where they believe a naval amphibious operation could take place.
“The Main Intelligence Directorate constantly monitors everything related to the activities of the military group in temporarily occupied Crimea. They are really preparing for defensive actions on the territory of the peninsula,” Skibitsky said.
“The infrastructure is maintained in combat readiness,” he added. “These are powerful land and aviation components that are located on the territory of Crimea. These are combat aircraft—about 90, about 60 combat helicopters, which are located on the territory of Crimea.”
Newsweek has reached out to the Kremlin for comment. However, several of those claims were echoed Wednesday by the Institute for the Study of War, which surveyed satellite imagery showing Russian forces continuing the construction of defensive fortifications in southern Ukraine, along the Crimean border.
“Satellite imagery also shows that Russian forces have increased the number of barriers and trenches along roads in Kherson Oblast leading into occupied Crimea over the past few months,” the report claimed.
Skibitskyi’s claims come amid claims by Ukrainian officials that officials among Ukraine’s western allies were warming to the idea of Ukraine crossing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s red line to take back Crimea, a contested region of Ukraine that has been under Russian occupation since the onset of the Ukraine-Russian war in 2014.
Earlier this week, Tamila Tasheva, Ukraine’s representative for Crimea, told the Daily Beast he believed that an effort to retake the peninsula would not present the same issues some—he did not say who—believe as Russia’s ability to wage an offensive war in Ukraine have begun to diminish more than one year into the renewed conflict.
“We heard from Western leaders that…if we come back to Crimea, that there would be an unavoidable escalation, that might even provoke a nuclear conflict,” Tasheva said. “The rhetoric has been changing since we explain more and more what Crimea is, what it means for Russia, and how things are connected around Crimea.”
Military activities have begun escalating in the region as well. On March 1, Russian military officials claimed Russian forces stopped a “massive” Ukrainian drone attack in Crimea while figures like Alexander Bogomaz, the governor of Russia’s Bryansk region, claimed in a post on his Telegram channel earlier this week that Ukrainian troops attacked the Klimovsky district and “Saboteurs fired at a moving car.”