Russian Ukraine buildup greater than disclosed, satellite images show

Satellite photos show Russia has moved more warplanes, troops and equipment to near its border with Ukraine than previously revealed, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

The military buildup, which has taken place in Crimea and at Moscow’s bases near Ukraine, has alarmed the United States and other NATO countries as it indicates an increased pressure for political coercion or likelihood of Russian military intervention into Ukraine.

One commercial satellite image from April 16 specifically shows Su-30 fighters on a runway at a Crimea air base which had not been there in late March, according to the Journal.

Russia apparently has also added military units to the area that include attack helicopters, motorized rifle and armored units, smoke generators, spy drones, jamming equipment and a military hospital, according to the photos taken between March 27 and April 16 by Maxar Technologies.

The added forces and armaments come after the European Union’s (EU) top foreign policy minister Josep Borrell warned Monday that tensions on the Ukraine-Russia border were at an all-time high, adding that “a spark” could set off a war between the two countries. 

Borrell said there are more than 100,000 Russian troops amassing at the borders and in Crimea – double the forces there about four weeks ago – with the risk of further escalation “evident” and “very concerning.”

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby also said Monday that the Russian military buildup is “certainly bigger” than the one witnessed in 2014 when Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine.

Kirby declined to provide a specific number of Russian forces in the area and said it was not clear if it was for training purposes, as Moscow has asserted.

Retired Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove told the Journal that the images indicate that Moscow wasn’t positioned to immediately strike but the country could still take other military actions.

“They have appropriately deployed the various elements of airpower that would be needed to establish air superiority over the battlefield and directly support the ground troops,” said Breedlove, who was the top NATO military commander during Crimea’s annexation in 2014.

And Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns told Congress last week that the Russian buildup could be meant to intimidate the Ukrainian government and as a signal to the Biden administration.

“It’s something not only the United States, but also our allies have to take very seriously,” Burns told the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Should Russia attack, Biden administration officials have been mulling options to slap Moscow with more sanctions or give Ukraine lethal and nonlethal military aid, a person familiar with the deliberations told the Journal. The options haven’t yet been presented to President Biden, they added.

Biden last week also spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the escalating tensions in a phone call where he “emphasized the United States’ unwavering commitment” to Kyiv and urged Putin to diminish the saber rattling.

The two sides have also discussed a possible summit meeting later this year between Biden and Putin.

Tags . Russia-Ukraine conflict Joe Biden Vladimir Putin William Burns
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