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Report: Putin defies Biden, sends more Russian troops to Ukraine border

Russian military vehicles assembled during a readiness check, January 13, 2020. (Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation/Released)
December 17, 2021

Russia is reportedly sending even more troops to its border with Ukraine, even after President Joe Biden warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that the U.S. would punish Russia and increase defensive assistance to Ukraine.

U.S. intelligence found Russia is sending additional military units to the border region, sources familiar with the intelligence told CNN on Friday. The latest U.S. intelligence revealed Russia has about 50 so-called “Battalion Tactical Groups” or BTGs — each consisting of about 900 troops — deployed on and around the Ukraine border. According to CNN’s sources, another six of these BTGs are now on their way to the Ukrainian border.

These Russian BTGs are meant to act as self-sustained fighting units, complete with their own infantry, artillery, anti-tank, reconnaissance and engineering units. These Russian units were heavily employed in the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea.

Satellite images captured by Maxar Technologies and shared with CNN also show Russia has gathered troops and equipment as close as 30 miles away from the Ukrainian border. Michael Kofman, the research program director in the Russia Studies Program at Center for Naval Analyses (CNA), said Russia appears to be actively assembling its 3rd Motor Rifle Division and its 144th Motor Rifle Division.

Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), who recently returned from a visit to Ukraine, said the next warning sign in Russia’s troop buildup will likely be if they call up reserve forces.

These signs of the Russian military buildup come days after Biden and Putin held a call with hopes to deescalate tensions over Ukraine. According to a White House readout of the Dec. 7 call, Biden “voiced the deep concerns of the United States and our European Allies about Russia’s escalation of forces surrounding Ukraine” and warned the U.S and its allies would work together to bring “strong economic and other measures” against Russia.

The addition of these new Russian BTGs indicates Russia is not yet ready to back down from its weeks-long military buildup around Ukraine. On Friday, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a draft proposal, laying out the mutual security guarantees it wants with the U.S. over Ukraine. Among proposals are that the U.S. and NATO make a binding pledge not to allow Ukraine into the alliance.

In addition to the new Russian units on their way to the Ukrainian border, accidentally published Russian court documents appeared to allude to the presence of Russian units operating in Ukraine’s Donbas region. While Donbas is part of Ukrainian territory, the region has seen years of fighting between an active pro-Russian separatist movement and Ukrainian government forces. The Russian court documents, spotted by a Twitter user and reported by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty before they were taken off the court’s website, describe shipments of food to sustain the Russian troops in Donbas throughout 2018 and 2019.