More evidence has emerged of a steady build-up of Russian military equipment and deployments around Ukraine, with new satellite images revealing a further expansion of the military presence at multiple locations in Belarus, Crimea and western Russia.
Russian forces have moved into Belarus in the last two weeks. The Russian and Belarus defense ministries say the deployments are ahead of a major training exercise this month.
The imagery was collected and analyzed by Maxar. In an accompanying note, Maxar said the deployments “reflect an increased level of activity and readiness.”
Maxar and other satellite imagery providers said they have noticed the expansion of existing Russian military training grounds and garrisons within some 150 miles of the Ukrainian border over the last few months.
Some are within a few miles of the border.
Maxar said the most recent images show a new phase of Russian activity.
It said that previously, “in most cases, few troops or new housing for additional personnel were observed near the deployments, suggesting that some of the units may have been pre-positioned or forward deployed.”
That has begun to change.
“During the past couple of weeks, several new significant military deployments have been observed in Belarus,” Maxar said.
“Also, troop tents/shelters for personnel have been seen at virtually every deployment location in Belarus, Crimea and western Russia, which suggests that the units are now accompanied with troops and have increased their overall readiness level.”
Maxar compared images from September and late January of the same military camp at Novoozerne in Crimea. The images show a significant increase in activity, with an area of tents being erected.
That implies the camp is ready to house troops, although there is no evidence of troops arriving as of now.
Maxar also note that “local military training activity (including live-fire artillery and maneuver training) has been observed in progress at numerous training areas.”
The imagery shows impact craters at two training areas in Russia: Pogonovo and Persianovsky. Persianovsky is some 30 miles (50 kilometers) from the Ukrainian border. Pogonovo is some 150 miles (220 kilometers) from the border.
Konrad Muzyka, a defense analyst focusing on Russia and Belarus at Rochan Consulting, an aerospace and defense consultancy, said he believes there are now between 74 and 76 Russian battalion tactical groups (BTGs) ranged around Ukraine.
Battalion tactical groups typically comprise of about 1,000 soldiers, along with support units.
Muzyka says that since the first week of January, Russia has been moving its forces from the Eastern Military District – thousands of miles away in Siberia – to Western Russia and Belarus.
“The size of this deployment is significant, perhaps as many as 15-20 BTGs,” Muzyka wrote in a note.
He also said that Russian Ground Forces have deployed units that include Iskander short-range ballistic missiles to Belarus and parts of Russia close to Ukraine. He calculates there are at least 48 launchers near Ukraine.
While Russian capabilities and movements can often be observed, the Kremlin’s intentions are much more difficult to read. US President Joe Biden said last week that an invasion of Ukraine in February is “a distinct possibility.”
UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has said that “it is highly likely that [President Putin] is likely to invade Ukraine.”
“There is a real threat of invasion, but we don’t know what’s going to happen,” she told the BBC on January 30.
The Kremlin has consistently denied that it has any plans to invade Ukraine.
CNN’s Gianluca Mezzofiore reported from London and CNN’s Tim Lister reported from Zaporozhzia, Ukraine.