Russia’s military buildup on Ukraine’s border “on par” with that of April, say online sleuths

Russian tanks sitting between a road and a railway. Photo via CIT 

Russian Aggression

In the course of the last two weeks, American and Ukrainian officials have been reporting on the buildup of the Russian troops around Ukraine’s northern and eastern borders and in Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine.

Conflict Intelligence Team (CIT), a group of Russian online sleuths, has analyzed available online data on military personnel and materiel transfers in Russia and concluded that the concentration of Russian troops around Ukraine is “roughly on par” with that of this year’s April when the previous crisis of this kind took place.

However, if Russia would keep its current troop transfer pace until January, Russia would amass significantly more troops near Ukraine’s borders and in Crimea than in April, the researchers concluded.

On 10 November, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the US was concerned that Russia might attempt

“to rehash what it undertook back in 2014, when it amassed forces along the border, crossed into sovereign Ukrainian territory and did so claiming falsely that it was provoked.”

Later that day, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wrote on Facebook,

“Our Western partners have provided data on the active movement of Russian troops along the Ukrainian border and the increase in their concentration.”

A week later, the head of Ukraine’s defense intelligence agency, Brig. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov told Military Times that Russia had over 92,000 troops amassed around Ukraine’s borders and was preparing for an attack by late January or early February.

Ukrainian map of Russian troop concentration presented by the Ukrainian intelligence to Military Times.

Earlier this year, in late March through early April, a similar buildup of the Russian troops raised concerns of Ukraine and the West, yet back then it didn’t end up in a new Russian invasion of Ukraine.

On 19 November, American intelligence officials said Russia hadn’t yet decided what it was going to do with the troops it has amassed close to Ukraine’s borders, yet the US takes the buildup seriously.

Now, CIT has examined new photos and videos published on social media, showing the transfers of Russian military equipment. The researchers have geolocated the multimedia and, in the cases when they showed the vehicles transported by rail, investigated the routes taken by the trains using the railway online tracking service GdeVagon, which allows to find out the departure and destination stations of railway cars by their board numbers. CIT identified several vehicles as belonging to military units pinpointed by Ukrainian Intelligence on their map presented to Military Times. CIT sleuths also found that the vehicles and personnel transferred by train were bound for the respective areas marked on the map.

An example of CIT’s findings: T-72B3 tanks of the 42nd Guards Motorized Rifle Division caught on video on a train bound for Crimea. Screenshots: CIT

CIT says that the quantity of the vehicles on move is “quite alarming” and the presence of several new units near the Ukrainian border “suggests a troop concentration roughly on par with this year’s spring.”

“As far as we can infer from the frequency of videos and from satellite data, the troop transfer is going relatively slower than during the previous crisis. However, if this pace continues to January, and also if the 41st Army personnel is transferred to Yelnya to its vehicles (for example, by air), then the total number of Russian troops near the border and in Crimea would be significantly higher than the April figures,” the CIT report reads.

Further, CIT concurs with Ukrainian Intelligence’s assessment on the possible combat readiness of the Russian troops for conducting an operation in the government-controlled territory of Ukraine “at the least no earlier than the beginning of next year.”

Further reading:

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