Russian military movements near Ukraine: What satellite images show

Russian troop locations can be seen in the Yelninsky district of Russia's Smolensk region in this satellite image taken Nov. 22, 2021. U.S. intelligence officials determined that Russian planning is underway for a possible invasion in Ukraine that could begin as soon as early 2022. (Maxar Technologies/AP)
Russian troop locations can be seen in the Yelninsky district of Russia's Smolensk region in this satellite image taken Nov. 22, 2021. U.S. intelligence officials determined that Russian planning is underway for a possible invasion in Ukraine that could begin as soon as early 2022. (Maxar Technologies/AP)
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Since at least October, Russian military movements near the Ukrainian border have been prompting worries among U.S. and European officials about the possibility that Moscow is preparing to launch a large-scale offensive in Ukraine early next year.

The White House believes Russian President Vladimir Putin hasn’t made up his mind but is preparing his forces for the possibility of an operation — a suggestion the Kremlin has denied.

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According to an unclassified U.S. intelligence analysis obtained by The Washington Post last week, a large-scale offensive could come to include as many as 175,000 Russian forces, including reservists being mobilized by the Russian armed forces.

The analysis stated that some 70,000 Russian forces are already near the border with Ukraine. Though it is unclear how the analysis arrived at that number, a significant portion of those are probably forces permanently stationed at military facilities near Russia’s western border and in Crimea, a peninsula Russia forcibly annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

Some of the forces and materiel, however, have moved toward the Ukrainian border from other places in Russia, including as far away as Siberia.

Janes, a defence intelligence company, has been tracking the movement of Russian military equipment and troops sent east from Siberia since the Spring of this year.

EST.

Nizhny

Novgoro

Mulino training

ground

LATVIA

2

Moscow

LITH.

RUSSIA

3

Yelnya

BELARUS

RUSSIA

POLAND

1

March-April

Pogonovo training

ground

Russia’s Central Military District begins to deploy troops and equipment from Siberia to Pogonovo training ground.

1

Kyiv

2

June-August

Some of the equipment is deployed to the Mulino training ground to participate in a military exercise. The vast majority of the equipment remains in Pogonovo.

UKRAINE

Luhansk

Donetsk

Separatist-

controlled

area

3

September-October

Odessa

Equipment deployed at Mulino is moved to Yelnya after the exercise instead of returning to Siberia as Russian Ministry of Defense originally announced. In October, more equipment at Pogonovo is seen being shipped to Yelnya.

 

200 MILES

CRIMEA

Annexed by

Russia in 2014

Black Sea

GEORGIA

Source: Janes

Janes, a defence intelligence company, has been tracking the movement of Russian military equipment and troops sent east from Siberia since the Spring.

1

March-April

Russia’s Central Military District begins to deploy troops and equipment from Siberia to Pogonovo training ground.

2

June-August

Some of the equipment is deployed to the Mulino training ground to participate in a military exercise. The vast majority of the equipment remains in Pogonovo.

3

September-October

Equipment deployed at Mulino is moved to Yelnya after the exercise instead of returning to Siberia as Russian Ministry of Defense originally announced. In October, more equipment at Pogonovo is seen being shipped to Yelnya.

 

Nizhny

Novgoro

RUSSIA

2

Mulino

training

ground

Moscow

3

Yelnya

200 MILES

BELARUS

Pogonovo

training

ground

1

Kyiv

UKRAINE

Luhansk

Donetsk

Separatist-

controlled

area

Odessa

RUSSIA

CRIMEA

Annexed by

Russia in 2014

Black Sea

GEORGIA

Source: Janes

Janes, a defence intelligence company, has been tracking the movement of Russian military equipment and troops sent east from Siberia since the Spring.

1

March-April

Russia’s Central Military District begins to deploy troops and equipment from Siberia to Pogonovo training ground.

2

June-August

Some of the equipment is deployed to the Mulino training ground to participate in a military exercise. The vast majority of the equipment remains in Pogonovo.

3

September-October

Equipment deployed at Mulino is moved to Yelnya after the exercise instead of returning to Siberia as Russian Ministry of Defense originally announced. In October, more equipment at Pogonovo is seen being shipped to Yelnya.

 

RUSSIA

2

Mulino

training

ground

Moscow

3

Yelnya

200 MILES

BELARUS

Pogonovo

training

ground

1

Kyiv

UKRAINE

Luhansk

Donetsk

Separatist-

controlled

area

Odessa

CRIMEA

Annexed by

Russia in 2014

Black Sea

GEORGIA

Source: Janes

Satellite images offer a partial snapshot of the materiel associated with those forces currently being housed in proximity to Ukraine.

Yelnya

Yelnya

BELARUS

RUSSIA

Kyiv

UKRAINE

Separatist-

controlled

area

200 MILES

Crimea

Black Sea

For weeks, military analysts have been keeping an eye on the small Russian city of Yelnya, southeast of Smolensk. The city — not far from the Ukrainian border — is home to the headquarters of the Russian army’s 144th Motor Rifle Division. But the division recently has had some guests.

Satellite images below show vehicle stores at the division’s garrison that were established in October. The equipment includes more than 500 armored vehicles, Iskander road-mobile ballistic missile launchers, artillery, communications and logistics support, according to the defense analysis firm Janes.

The equipment most likely belongs to the 41st Combined Arms Army, normally located in Siberia, and the 90th Tank Division, based near the Ural Mountains, according to Janes.

Much of the force and its equipment first moved to the western part of Russia near the city of Voronezh during a buildup near the Ukrainian border in March and April. Then, the Russian military said it was keeping the materiel in the area to use during planned exercises in the area this September. After those exercises took place, however, the materiel didn’t return home but went to Yelnya instead, according to Janes.

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Pogonovo

RUSSIA

BELARUS

Pogonovo

Kyiv

UKRAINE

Separatist-

controlled

area

200 MILES

Crimea

Black Sea

A Russian military training ground called Pogonovo, south of Voronezh, has attracted attention from analysts all year.

In March and April, during Russia’s first buildup of 2021, the site hosted much of the equipment from the Central Military District that has now moved to Yelnya, according to Janes. Once that equipment emptied out, the site began hosting new materiel associated with elements of the 1st Guards Tank Army, normally based outside Moscow.

The images below show two garrisons at the Pogonovo training grounds, each of which appears to be hosting a battalion-size element of around 30 main battle tanks, according to Janes. In addition to the tanks, other materiel has flowed into the site, including howitzers, thermobaric multiple rocket launchers and long-range multiple rocket launchers, Janes said.

The defense analysis group noted that there isn’t enough accommodation at the site to house sufficient personnel to operate the materiel, suggesting the equipment is being forward deployed.

Russian forces have begun to construct additional dividing walls within the main garrison — one of which is completely empty in the bottom photo — suggesting additional equipment is expected here, according to Janes.

Crimea

BELARUS

RUSSIA

Kyiv

UKRAINE

Separatist-

controlled

area

Novoozerne

200 MILES

Crimea

Black Sea

Analysts have also been tracking movements of Russian forces in Crimea. Russia has built up its military presence on the peninsula since its takeover in 2014, making the region a likely staging ground for any new operation in Ukraine.

The images below show a vehicle garrison on the southern coast of Crimea.

Janes said the garrison — first established in late 2020 but expanded this year — houses large numbers of main battle tanks, self-propelled howitzers and towed howitzers, probably belonging to units from the 58th Combined Arms Army, headquartered in faraway Vladikavkaz. Janes said those units deployed to the area during the first buildup last spring.

There is a large, empty storage site on the west side of the garrison that probably will be used to store additional equipment or provide troop accommodation in the event of an offensive, according to Janes. As it stands, there appears to be insufficient accommodation on-site to house enough personnel to operate the tanks and weaponry, Janes said.

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