Satellite imagery shows hundreds of Russian tanks near the border with Ukraine
Russia has been ramping up its forces near the border with Ukraine since August and now poses the greatest military threat since 2014, the year Moscow annexed Crimea, the commander of Ukraine’s armed forces told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday.
Satellite imagery from Google Earth taken on November shows hundreds of Russian main battle tanks at a new military base on the outskirts of the Kamensk-Shakhtinsky.
The large-scale military base only 18 kilometers away from the border with toward rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine.
Images show hundreds of main battle tank like as T-64 and also T-62M, while a thousand military trucks, artillery systems, and tankers are located slightly higher.
Muzhenko said Russian troop levels were at “the highest” since 2014 when Moscow annexed Crimea and then deployed forces to eastern Ukraine.
“In front of us is an aggressor who has no legal, moral or any other limits,” he said. “It is very difficult to predict when it will occur to him to begin active combat actions against Ukraine.”
“This (the Kerch Strait incident) was an act of aggression from regular forces, the border service (of the Russian Federation) in relation to the Ukrainian armed forces,” Muzhenko said.
On Sunday, November 25, the Russian coast guard attacked three Ukrainian naval vessels in the Sea of Azov.
Russia naval vessels opened fire and captured 3 Ukrainian naval vessels, 6 wounded and 23 crew members captured.
Soon after the attack, Russia Deploys Su-25 Jets & Helicopters to blocks passage in Kerch Strait, despite the fact that a 2003 agreement between the two nations gives Ukraine the indisputable right to use those waters.
In response to Russian attack Ukraine Declares Martial Law and placed armed forces on a full alert amid situation in the Kerch Strait and the attack on Ukrainian warships.
In response to this latest crisis, the Ukrainian parliament has voted to impose martial law for a period of 30 days. The law will affect ten regions bordering Russia and the unrecognized territory of Transnistria: Vinnitsia, Luhansk, Mykolaiv, Odessa, Sumy, Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Kherson, Zaporizhia and Donetsk regions. While martial law is in effect, there will be restrictions to the rights and freedoms of citizens.
Now, military capabilities from both countries are pouring into the area and an outright conflict has never been more possible between the two bitter neighbors.
The Kremlin’s goal is to bring the land and waters around Crimea completely under Russian control. That’s partly why it fired on the Ukrainian ships: as a way of asserting its dominance over the waterway.
So far, only a war of words has broken out, with each side blaming the other for what happened. Poroshenko called the move “an act of aggression;” Russia’s foreign ministry said Ukraine was responsible for the “well-thought-out provocation.” But the skirmish has the potential to grow into an even bigger fight if Russia uses warships and warplanes to keep Ukrainian vessels out of the Sea of Azov.
Russia and Ukraine have been at war since early 2014, when Moscow’s forces invaded Eastern Ukraine. That conflict roils today whereas Russian agents, some uniformed and others disguised as civilians, try to seize that territory away from Kiev’s control.
Russia’s seizure of Crimea from Ukraine is Putin’s greatest achievement in the conflict, as it gave him access to new ports and waterways, all while taking land away from Ukraine. And to solidify his gains, Putin is trying to bring the bodies of water around Crimea further under the Kremlin’s control.
The water around Crimea matters. For one, more than 80 percent of Ukraine’s exports go through the Sea of Azov, which makes it vital to an independent Ukraine. It’s also an important fishing hub that provides both food for the region and an economic boon.
Russia started by harassing Ukraine’s commercial ships, Carpenter said. Then it grew its naval capabilities in the region. Now it’s taken the next step: firing on and boarding Ukrainian ships while denying them further access to the waterway.
The dispute could also become a major test for President Donald Trump as he decides how — or if — to respond to Russia’s aggression. Pressure is already mounting from Congress and analysts for the US to respond forcefully against Russia, or risk letting Moscow get away with it.
The Trump administration has so far offered mixed signals, with UN Ambassador Nikke Haley saying that Moscow’s moves are “another reckless Russian escalation” and Trump claiming that “We don’t like what’s happening either way” — seemingly not putting the blame on the Kremlin.
Analysts I spoke to highlighted three main reasons why Russia likely chose to take this next step right now.
- The first is that Ukraine’s Orthodox Church said last month that it would separate from Russia’s. That’s a big deal, as Moscow used the church to spread its propaganda to devout Ukrainians, explained Farkas, the former Pentagon official. Russia has counted on the church’s support for the past three centuries; now, Moscow has lost a major way to spread its influence. That’s a problem for Putin, as the schism allows Ukraine to become more independent of Russia — right as he’s trying to bring it further under Moscow’s control. Poroshenko celebrated the move in October by saying it was “absolutely necessary to cut off all the tentacles with which the aggressor country operates inside the body of our state.”
- The second reason is that Poroshenko is up for reelection in March. The race is already tight, and taking access to the Sea of Azov away from Ukraine might hurt him by negatively impacting the economy. However, Poroshenko may gain voter support for staunchly standing up to Putin’s aggression.
- Finally, experts said that Putin typically uses aggressive military tactics as a way to improve his declining approval rate. Putin has promised to turn his country into a global economic powerhouse and improve the lives of everyday Russians — but Russia’s economic growth is slowing, and Russians aren’t happy.
So it may be a shrewd political move on Putin’s part to attack Ukraine and boost his image at home.
The big question now is whether the US — along with others in the international community — will seriously respond to Moscow’s aggression. As of now, that looks unlikely.
If Trump chooses not to respond more forcefully, then it’s possible Russia will only escalate its actions in the Kerch Strait and possible NATO territory in the future.