A new round of Russian troops buildup near the Ukrainian border has raised concern among some officials in the United States and Europe who are tracking what they consider irregular movements of equipment and personnel on Russia’s western flank. This was reported by The Washington Post.
The officials said the troop movements have reignited concerns that arose in April, when the largest buildup of troops by Russia near the Ukrainian border in years sparked an international outcry.
The renewed movements of Russian forces in the area come as the Kremlin embraces a harder line on Ukraine. Russian officials from President Vladimir Putin on down have escalated their rhetoric in recent months, attacking Kyiv’s Western ties and even questioning its sovereignty. Putin has warned that any expansion of NATO military infrastructure on Ukrainian territory represents a “red line” for Moscow.
The situation also comes as the simmering 7½-year conflict between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists in the eastern Donbas region enters a new stage. On Oct. 26, Ukraine’s military confirmed it had used a Turkish-made drone against a position in Donbas, the first time Kyiv has employed the technology in combat, prompting an outcry from Moscow.
Relations between Moscow and NATO are especially tense. Russia suspended its mission to NATO in Brussels on Oct. 18 after the alliance expelled eight members of the Russian mission on accusations of espionage.
What the Russian forces gathering near the Ukrainian border are doing is unclear.
Videos have surfaced on social media in recent days showing Russian military trains and convoys moving large quantities of military hardware, including tanks and missiles, in southern and western Russia.
“The point is: It is not a drill. It doesn’t appear to be a training exercise. Something is happening. What is it?” said Michael Kofman, director of the Russia studies program at the Virginia-based nonprofit analysis group CNA.
Officials in the United States and Europe began noticing the movements particularly in recent weeks, after Russia concluded a massive joint military exercise with Belarus known as Zapad 2021 on its western flank in mid-September.
According to Kofman, publicly available satellite imagery shows that forces from Russia’s 41st Combined Arms Army, normally based in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, didn’t return to Siberia after the exercises, and instead linked up with other Russian forces near the Ukrainian border. Kofman also said footage posted online appears to show that Russia’s 1st Guards Tank Army, an elite unit based outside Moscow, is moving personnel and materiel toward Ukraine.
Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s national security and defense council, said in a statement that after the conclusion of the Zapad 2021 exercises, Russia left military equipment, as well as control and communications centers, at training sites along the Ukrainian border.
Danilov estimated that the number of Russian troops deployed around the Ukrainian border at 80,000 to 90,000, not including the tens of thousands stationed in Crimea.
Moscow has prompted alarm by amassing large contingents of troops near the Ukrainian border in the past, only to subsequently withdraw those forces and quell fears of a renewed invasion of Ukraine.