Russia has been moving forces to the Crimea Peninsula as part of a large military buildup on Ukraine’s border, according to defense-intelligence firm Janes and the Moscow-based Conflict Intelligence Team, which tracks Russian troop deployments.
Troops and equipment have been arriving in Crimea since last week, London-based Janes said by email. The deployment follows the dispatch of battle tanks and other heavy weaponry to the Voronezh region of southwestern Russia, Janes said.
The forces sent to Crimea include the 34th motorized rifle brigade, which was filmed loading on a train in the Stavropol region Nov. 11, and the 42nd guards motorized rifle division, whose T-72B3 tanks were seen on video on a train heading toward Crimea, CIT said.
The Russian Defense Ministry’s press service didn’t respond to phone calls after business hours. The Kremlin has repeatedly responded to queries about Russian troop deployments by saying that movements within the country’s borders are an internal matter.
The U.S. has shared intelligence with European allies that shows a buildup of Russian troops and artillery that it says could be preparing for a rapid, large-scale push into Ukraine from multiple locations if President Vladimir Putin decided to invade, according to people familiar with the conversations.
The U.S. assessment is that Putin could be weighing an invasion early next year. The information suggests the possibility of a scenario in which troops would cross into Ukraine from Crimea, the Russian border and via Belarus with about 100 battalion tactical groups, or potentially about 100,000 soldiers.
Putin last week denied any intention to invade Ukraine but said the alarm was evidence that his actions had gotten the attention of the U.S. and its allies, which he accused of failing to take Russia’s “red lines” over Ukraine seriously enough.
For the Russian leader, Ukraine remains unfinished business after his annexation of Crimea and a Moscow-backed uprising in the east of Ukraine in 2014 that’s provoked an ongoing conflict leading to the deaths of 14,000 people. Putin views Ukraine as historically part of Russia and is determined to halt its nascent military engagement with NATO, the Western military alliance.
In a security alert posted on its website on Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv warned American citizens of “unusual Russian military activity near Ukraine’s borders and in occupied Crimea,” adding that “security conditions along the border may change with little or no notice.”
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