A large number of Russian soldiers in the eastern part of the country have been sent on mysterious 6-9-month missions toward Ukraine, according to the Moscow-based Conflict Intelligence Team’s report published on Jan. 19.
The report comes as Russian troops, which moved from the country’s far east to the west for almost six months, have been spotted only 40 kilometers from Russia's border with Ukraine. Russia has already deployed more than 127,000 troops on the Ukrainian border, according to Ukraine’s Defense Ministry’s latest intelligent assessment shared with CNN.
Relatives and friends of Russian soldiers in the east have expressed worries on social media, speaking about how their loved ones were sent on months-long “business trips” or “exercises” toward the west as tensions rise in the Ukrainian-Russian border over a looming large-scale invasion.
Those in a close relationship with the deployed soldiers have left hundreds of comments under the videos released on social media last week where military equipment was being transported.
One person commented that soldiers who were boarding a train at a station near Khabarovsk said they were going to the border with Donbas region of Ukraine, a part of which Russia invaded in 2014.
A friend of a soldier who was also reportedly sent to Donbas said “the marines went to Ukraine,” while many other commentators said they weren’t told where their loved ones were being deployed.
Districts in eastern Russia are also transferring a significant part of their personnel in addition to military vehicles toward Ukraine, according to the report.
“(My) son said that almost all contract soldiers went on a ‘work trip,’” a soldier’s mother wrote.
“This is an exercise. A high-ranking military guy from Moscow who is a family friend told me that there’s no need to worry,” a soldier’s daughter’s comment reads.
While many of those who commented said the months-long trips were simply an exercise, CIT says the same thing happened in 2014 when soldiers believed the whole thing was an exercise until the final call to march into Ukraine.
CIT also noted that they could also be heading to Belarus where joint military drills are scheduled for February but said it’s suspicious how the soldiers were told that they will be away from home for many months, while the drills are supposed to take place for 10 days.
A few days ago, ballistic missile launchers were reportedly spotted moving west from bases in the Russian far east, while the Kremlin said the stand-off between Moscow and the West over Ukraine got to an “extremely dangerous” phase.
Moscow has denied the allegations that it was preparing to invade its neighboring country but repeatedly asked for a response to its sweeping demands for security guarantees from the West, which includes a halt to NATO’s potential eastward expansion including in Ukraine.
Seeking to head off a potential assault on Ukraine, Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Jan. 21.
Blinken warned that Russia could launch an attack on Ukraine at “very short notice” during his visit to Kyiv on Jan. 19.