Reuters reported on Wednesday that Russia is massing troops and weapons some fifty kilometers from the Ukrainian border, raising fears that the country is preparing another stealth invasion of its former Soviet republic.
According the news agency, military vehicles at the makeshift base were without number plates while many of the servicemen there had taken insignia off their fatigues.
Russian troops similarly entered Ukraine last year without identifying marks to seize the Crimean Peninsula. Russia denied for months its forces had been present in the country — even after annexing the Crimea in March.
The Crimea belonged to Russia for almost two centuries before Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred it to Ukraine in 1954. After Ukraine split from the Soviet Union in 1991, the Russian Federation recognized the peninsula as part of Ukraine’s territory.
Russia still denies it supports the separatist uprising in Ukraine’s southeastern Donbas region where fighting between government forces and rebels continues despite two ceasefires brokered by France and Germany.
Russia’s Ministry of Defense had no comment about the growing military presence on the border. Several soldiers told Reuters they had been sent to the base for exercises.
Russia has staged several army drills in the west through the last year.
But Reuters also reported that a dirt road leading across the steppe from the Russian staging area to the Ukrainian border had been freshly repaired, making it more passable for heavy vehicles.
Former American intelligence analyst and Naval War College professor John R. Schindler writes at his blog that Russia is either getting ready to launch an offensive or wants the world to think it is about to.
Deception, what Russians call maskirovka, is a well-honed art there, so it’s possible this is yet another saber rattle. But we don’t know yet.
NATO’s supreme allied commander, General Philip Breedlove, said earlier this month he believed the separatists were preparing for another offensive in eastern Ukraine.
Among the weapons spotted by Reuters were rocket launchers, self-propelled howitzers and tanks.