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Russia positioning military for open conflict against Ukraine, report says

A Russian T-90 main battle tank. (Vitaliy Ragulin/Wikimedia Commons)
December 12, 2018

Reports over the past week have indicated that Russia is deploying military forces near the Ukrainian border, and a new intelligence analysis indicates that Russia may be preparing to strike.

The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) released a new weekly intelligence summary on Tuesday entitled “Russia in Review,” in which they assessed Russia’s recent mobilization of troops and military equipment, and concluded that Russia is preparing a strike against Ukraine.

“The Russian military is now preparing its forces for direct military involvement,” the ISW said. “The Kremlin is reinforcing ground, naval, and air elements in its Southern Military District – the command likely responsible for managing its ongoing war in Ukraine. Moscow may calculate that the international community will not meaningfully respond if the visibility of its role in the war now increases.”

The ISW also warned that Russia has mobilized troops and equipment under the guise of military exercises. However, the next exercise, Center-2019, is not scheduled to begin until September 2019.

“This early start to the exercises is atypical and may signal preparation for open conflict with Ukraine under the auspices of military exercises. Russia has previously used military exercises as cover to prepare for offensive operations,” the ISW warned.

The report follows recent satellite images captured by ImageSat International and obtained by Fox News, in which three IL-76 cargo planes were spotted at the Dzhankoi Airbase in Crimea. The cargo planes are said to be used to delivery oversized cargo or large numbers of troops.

Dzhankoi is located less than 25 miles from Ukraine’s southern border.

Satellite images from earlier this month showed that Russia deployed eight S-400 surface-to-air missile launchers to the Dzhankoi Airbase. Several videos showed the missile launchers in transit to the base on Crimean highways.

Russia’s mobile S-400 missile system is capable of hitting targets up to nearly 250 miles away and as high as 19 miles.

Additional satellite imagery from November showed a significant mobilization of Russian military equipment to a location near Kamensk-Shakhtinsky, located approximately 11 miles from Ukraine’s eastern border.

The photos show “around 250 T-62 battle tanks and around one thousand military trucks, artillery systems and tankers at the base,” the Daily Mail reported Monday. Earlier satellite images confirmed that the equipment was deployed to the base within recent months.

“This is 18km from my border, this is the same warehouse where they have their ammunition, the same where they have multi-rocket launch systems, we should be prepared to protect my country,” said Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

The ISW said it warned about the mobilization of Russian equipment back in September, before the late November clash between Russian and Ukrainian ships in the Kerch Strait.

“Russia may be preparing to fabricate or launch a chemical weapons attack in Ukraine in order to create a false pretext to escalate against Ukraine,” the ISW suggested. “Russia likely perceives the lack of a unified NATO response to Moscow’s aggression in the Sea of Azov as an opportunity to escalate against Ukraine and elsewhere in the future.”

“The U.S. and NATO must be increasingly prepared for an emboldened Russia to escalate in multiple theaters,” the ISW concluded in warning.