Ukraine: How prepared is Russia for attack?


By David Brown
BBC News

Russia has positioned about 130,000 troops – equipped with everything from tanks and artillery to medical facilities and logistical support – close to Ukraine’s border.

They include about 30,000 troops taking part in military exercises in Belarus.

US officials say Russia has the troops in place to invade Ukraine “at any time“.

But Russia denies it is planning an attack.

RUSSIAN DEFENCE MINISTRY: Rocket launchers being fired in joint military drills in Belarus 

Troops on the move

Reports suggest that key support units necessary for an invasion have been moving into position alongside combat troops in recent days.

They are thought to include tank repair workshops, mud clearance equipment and field hospitals with blood supplies in some areas.

Some analysts say the presence of manned field hospitals, in particular, could be a key indicator of readiness to attack.

It is unclear whether all the support necessary for an invasion is present in every area.

Units arriving from across Russia have been added to about 35,000 military personnel who are permanently stationed close to Ukraine’s border.


Some newly arrived units have travelled almost 4,000 miles from the Russian Far East.

Much of the heavy armour has been brought in by rail, some passing through Kursk, approximately 80 miles (130km) from the Ukraine border.

Other vehicles have arrived by road, via Karachev in the Bryansk region.

Most estimates have put the number of Russian troops deployed around Ukraine at 100,000 or more.

On Thursday, western officials said the number had reached 130,000, up from their previous estimate of 100,000.

The UK defence secretary Ben Wallace said that Russia had deployed “half its combat troops” near Ukraine’s border or in Belarus.

Ukraine has suggested similar figures, with 112,000 ground troops plus about 18,000 navy and air force personnel in position.

In addition to the regular Russian troops, there are thought to be about 15,000 Russian separatists in Ukraine’s Luhansk and Donetsk regions. Ukraine believes the figure is higher.

In December, a US intelligence assessment suggested the total number of troops could be rapidly increased to 175,000.

Many experts believe that a full-scale invasion, followed by an occupation of most or all of Ukraine, would require many more troops than Russia has currently assembled.

The view from above

The presence of troops can sometimes be detected in satellite images by the colour of tents.

Those occupied are heated, melting the snow on their roofs and appearing darker from above.

Some training exercises with main battle tanks are clearly visible.

Armoured vehicles can be identified by their shapes, and tyre tracks or mud indicate vehicles on the move.

Satellites have detected a sharp rise in activity in Crimea where, according to one assessment, an additional 10,000 troops arrived in late January and early February.

It’s believed they include infantry and airborne forces, and that some units have been put on the highest level of readiness.

Build-up in Belarus

Joint military exercises in Belarus are scheduled to run until 20 February.

The country’s leader, Alexander Lukashenko, supports Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, is less than 100 miles (150km) from the Belarus border, and western observers say the exercise, Allied Resolve, could provide an opportunity to rehearse a mission against Ukraine.

The Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said that 30,000 Russian combat troops had arrived in Belarus, in Moscow’s biggest military deployment to the country since the end of the Cold War.

Satellite images appear to show Russian Iskander short-range ballistic missile launchers near Yelsk in Belarus, less than 45 miles (72km) from the Ukraine border.

Russian deployments to Belarus include air defences, munitions and medical support.

Mr Stoltenberg said that Russian Speznaz special operations forces were also on the ground.

GETTY IMAGES: Russian S-400 air defence systems have arrived in Belarus 

Advanced Su-25 ground attack planes have been pictured by satellite at Luninets airfield.

The build-up at sea

Russia is holding worldwide naval drills, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, running through February, involving about:

  • 140 ships and support vessels
  • 60 aircraft
  • 10,000 personnel
RUSSIAN DEFENCE MINISTRY: The Admiral Essen frigate leaves Sevastopol on 25 January 

Six Russian Navy vessels which passed through the English Channel in January are now in the Black Sea.

They are capable of landing main battle tanks, personnel and armoured vehicles.

On Saturday, Russia’s Black Sea fleet said more than 30 ships had started training exercises near Crimea.

GETTY IMAGES: The Pyotr Morgunov sails through the Bosphorus Strait en route to the Black Sea  

On Monday, a senior Russian military official said that Russia was ready to open fire on foreign ships and submarines that illegally enter its territorial waters, according to the Interfax news agency.

Moscow has issued coastal warnings citing missile and gunnery firing exercises in the Black Sea.

Some analysts say an amphibious landing by Russian troops would be extremely difficult and the naval forces may be a “feint” to draw Ukrainian ground forces away from more likely routes of attack on land.

Graphics by Sandra Rodriguez Chillida and Prina Shah.

Source: BBC News


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