Past discussions over lethal military aid to Ukraine have been politically fraught, given concern over provoking Russia, issues with training the Ukrainian forces themselves and ongoing uneasiness over corruption in the Ukrainian government and military.
But despite Russia’s announcement, a top Ukrainian official said in May that about 100,000 Russian troops were still near its border and in Crimea, Al Jazeera reported. That same month, Biden officials told The New York Times that the number was closer to 80,000.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced in May that Moscow was in the process of building 20 new military units to base in Western Russia, close to the Ukrainian border over the next year, though he was vague on specifics.
Satellite imagery captured by Maxar in May and June of this year shows that hundreds of trucks and other heavy equipment remains staged in newly constructed makeshift bases in Western Russia and at a major training range in Crimea.
“The reason they left those units is because they said that they intend to use them in Zapad 2021,” a large military exercise Russia holds every several years with Belarus involving tens of thousands of troops, said Michael Kofman, director of Russian studies at CNA. Moscow had already transported heavy armor, rocket units and other equipment from their home bases in Central Russia, “and they didn’t want to drag them back. That was their argument, and we’ll see,” Kofman added. The last Zapad exercise was held in 2017, and the next one is set for September.
The photos show fully stocked motor pools near the town of Voronezh in Western Russia and the Opuk Training Center in Crimea.
The rapid buildup alarmed the Biden administration and European allies, as the scale of the Russian maneuvers — heavy armor, reserve troops, a field hospital and kitchens shipped from bases hundreds of miles away — gave the impression of a force primed and ready to conduct extended operations. The buildup was larger than what was seen during the 2014 invasion of Ukraine.
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