Russia has amassed as many as 40,000 troops and dozens of fighter jets, helicopters, tanks and armored vehicles near Ukraine that could be mobilized within “hours,” according to a new assessment by NATO.
The analysis is based on satellite images captured by Longmont, Colo.-based company DigitalGlobe and released by the alliance on Thursday.
The pictures clearly show a build-up of Russian armament near the border with Ukraine, including Su-27/30 “Flankers” fighter aircraft, Mi-8 “Hips” and Mi-24 “Hinds” helicopters, tanks and infantry fighting vehicles, an artillery battalion and possibly an airborne or Spetsnaz (special forces) battalion.
“These could move in a matter of hours,” Brig. Gary Deakin, a director at NATO’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, said in the announcement. “These forces have a destabilizing effect and present serious implications for the security and stability of the region.”
The U.S., Europe and Canada have levied sanctions against Russia for deploying forces to and later annexing the Ukraine’s Crimea region amid political unrest there.
Top officials from the Group of Seven leading economies planned to meet Thursday to consider tightening the economic penalties amid fears that Russia plans to take over more territory in the Ukraine.
Russia has suggested the troop movements are part of normal military activity. But NATO says the Russian military has between 35,000 and 40,000 troops in the vicinity of the Ukrainian border, with units massing – and not conducting training exercises or maneuvers – near such locations as Belgorod, Novocherkassk, Kuzminka, Yeysk and the Primorko-Akhtarsk Air Base.
“I would characterize it as a combined arms army,” Supreme Allied Commander Europe Gen. Philip Breedlove said in the announcement. “It has all of the provisioning and enabling that it needs to accomplish military objectives if given them.”
NATO has increased surveillance flights over Romania and Poland to monitor the activity in and around Ukraine.