There has been no evidence in recent weeks that Russia plans to withdraw its troops from the border of Ukraine. But there is evidence—photographic proof—of its growing presence in the region.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is using satellite imagery to keep tabs on Russian military movement in several cities near eastern Ukraine. The Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, the central command of NATO military forces, released on Thursday a batch of photos captured late last month that suggest Russia has slowly amassed 35,000 to 40,000 troops there.
“The Russians have an array of capabilities including aircraft, helicopters, special forces, tanks, artillery, infantry fighting vehicles … and these could move in a matter of hours,” said Brig. Gen. Gary Deakin, the director of the Comprehensive Crisis Operations and Management Center at SHAPE. “These forces have a destabilizing effect and present serious implications for the security and stability of the region.”
Officials say that while Russian units are building up in the region, they’re not conducting any military exercises. That lack of activity is what’s troubling.
“I would characterize it as a combined-arms army,” said Gen. Philip Breedlove of SHAPE. “It has all of the provisioning and enabling that it needs to accomplish military objectives if given them.”
The Russians, NATO officials worry, may be waiting. The military alliance, of which Ukraine is not a member, announced last week it would boost military support in the surrounding region, including the Baltics.
During its takeover of Crimea, a peninsula of Ukraine, Moscow denied sending Russian troops there. When it comes to the Russian presence along the border of Ukraine, however, photos don’t lie.