Satellite images show Russian military forces continue to rally near Ukrainian border

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KYIV – Tanks and other threatening self-propelled artillery pieces. A Russian Buk surface-to-air missile system like the one that downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014. Thousands more troops.

These are simply some from Russian forces and equipment seen in videos posted on social media heading for the Ukrainian border in the past week alone. Western and Ukrainian intelligence agencies estimate that around 100,000 troops, as well as fighter jets and ballistic missiles, are already in place. This number could rise to 175,000 soldiers, according to the agencies.

These deployments, coupled with verbal threats and war games taking place near Ukraine, do not bode well for peace in Eastern Europe. These are worrying signs that Russia could prepare to launch another large-scale invasion on several fronts to regain control of the former Soviet republic which has moved further and further away from Moscow’s orbit – and towards the western democratic world – since its 30-year independence. There are.

An invasion, experts warn, could potentially explode into Europe’s biggest and bloodiest war since World War II. war of almost 8 years in Ukraine which has already claimed more than 14,000 lives. Russian leader noted he wants NATO to renounce its 2008 promise of future Ukraine membership.

Recent satellite images provided to BuzzFeed News by Maxar Technologies and analyzed by military experts show what appear to be some of these new forces at strategic locations in Soloti, southwest Russia, about 30 miles from the border. Ukraine, and Opuk, in southern Crimea, the Black Sea Peninsula that Moscow forcibly seized in Kiev in 2014.

This weekend, the Russian army organized live-fire tank exercises with 1,500 troops in these areas and others nearby. The Russian Federal Security Service, the FSB, intercepted a Ukrainian navy ship in the Sea of ​​Azov which he claimed to have committed a “provocation”. And President Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin, and the country’s public media have launched more belligerent rhetoric.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters this week that Putin has yet to decide whether he will launch another full-scale invasion of Ukraine. But US intelligence and military analysts warn he has plenty of Russian forces if he decides to do so.

“There is no indication that Russia is moving its forces away from Ukraine, but there is evidence that Russia continues to send more ground forces closer to the border,” Rob Lee, Russian military expert and doctoral student at King’s College London War Studies Department, told BuzzFeed News. “I would expect this to mean that Russia will maintain an enhanced military position near Ukraine for the foreseeable future … even if it does not escalate in Ukraine.”

Konrad Muzyka, a defense analyst focused on Russia and Belarus, analyzed footage from Maxar Technologies for BuzzFeed News. He said Russia had created a new regiment within its 3rd Motor Rifle Division and said this group was probably responsible for much of the increase in troops and equipment at Soloti seen on satellite images between September 7 and December 5. It was two days before. Biden’s call with Putin.

“The regiment is based on BMP-3M [Russian infantry fighting vehicles] which were withdrawn from the 22nd central reserve and maintenance tank base in Buy in mid-November, ”he said, referring to the city northwest of Moscow where they came from. “The same facility delivered BMP-3Ms to a new motorized rifle regiment of the 18th Kaliningrad Motorized Rifle Division. In total, between mid-November and early December, some 200 new vehicles appeared at Soloti, although probably not all of them were from Buy. “

Maxar Senior Director Stephen Wood told BuzzFeed News that part of the recent surge in vehicle numbers seen in the Dec. 5 image could represent military units that have returned after their participation in the big exercise. ground forces organized by Russia in the fall.

In Opuk, Muzyka said, it is more difficult to know what is indicated in satellite images taken on November 27. “In recent months, there has been a lot of movement to and from Crimea. Maybe it’s done to hide the scale of Russian forces there. “

Wood said it was “one of the areas where the Russian military deployed a large deployment of forces and equipment in April.” Most of the equipment and troops had left the training area by early summer, according to Wood, but “this set of equipment seen in the November 26 image represents new equipment in the area at the end of November. “.

Muzyka noticed a disturbing element in these images: beacons where several tents were standing sheltering military equipment. Their presence meant they didn’t need to be deployed beyond the base.

“For me, removing equipment from storage to create a new unit is an indicator that Russia is preparing for conflict,” he said.

In a high-stakes diplomatic effort to avert another attack, Biden told Putin at a virtual summit on Tuesday that he would face dire consequences if he invaded Ukraine further.

“I made it clear to President Putin … that if he went to Ukraine, the economic consequences for his economy would be devastating, devastating,” Biden said of their discussion on Friday.

The Biden administration said it was considering several options to deter aggressive Russian behavior and potentially a further invasion of Ukraine. He said he could send more military aid to Kiev, including Javelin anti-tank missiles, and he pitched the idea of ​​sending air defense systems. And Biden himself has said he’s ready to impose tough new sanctions on Russia – although how much remains to be seen.

“What the president has said very clearly to President Putin, what I have said very clearly to Foreign Minister Lavrov, my counterpart, is that we are considering and are ready to take the kind of measures that we we have refrained from taking in the past, it would have huge consequences for Russia, ”Secretary of State Antony Blinken told NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday.

Speaking at a meeting with senior Group of 7 diplomats, Blinken said his counterparts “are equally determined in their resolve to oppose Russian aggression, ideally deter it, prevent it. “.

Biden met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday. The two discussed ways to try to break the diplomatic deadlock with Russia over the deadlocked peace deal known as the Minsk Accords.

The Ukrainian leader also urged Biden to be proactive on sanctions and security assistance, arguing that putting them in place and sending aid now could prevent an attack, a Zelensky adviser told BuzzFeed News at current of the call.

A sign that the situation could get worse before it gets better, as Biden and Zelensky spoke, Putin told Russian media that the Ukrainian military’s actions in eastern Ukraine were “Russophobic” and “sound like a genocide ”. In an interview broadcast on Russian state television on Sunday evening, Putin lamented the breakup of the USSR, according to Reuters, saying that this led to the end of “historic Russia”.



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