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Russian military buildup near Ukraine, explained

November 18, 2021 11:13 pmby Illia Ponomarenko
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Russia has been massing troops on Ukraine’s border, with NATO countries warning that the threat of a larger Russian invasion is very real. Here’s what you need to know.

How many Russian troops are on the border?

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry estimates that there are about 90,000 Russian troops deployed along the two countries’ border and inside the occupied territories. Last month, the Washington Post called it the largest military buildup in the region since April 2021, when Russia amassed 100,000 troops in the area.

Does Ukraine expect an imminent invasion?

Official responses have been mixed. At the start of the month, the Defense Ministry said it saw no signs of an upcoming invasion. The National Security and Defense Council called the alarmed Western media reports “disinformation.”

But on Nov. 15, Ukraine’s military intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov said that the movement of heavy weapons near Ukraine’s border could be interpreted as “preparation for a large-scale invasion and an attempt to render psychological pressure.”

What does the West say?

Western militaries and governments are concerned. They have warned Ukraine that a Russian military escalation is very likely this winter. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg recently called on the bloc’s members to “keep their eyes open.”

According to media reports, the United Kingdom considered sending 600 special forces troops to Ukraine. U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Сhief Bill Burns reportedly visited Moscow in early November to warn the Kremlin against invading.

What do experts say?

Expert opinions have been mixed. According to the U.S. Institute for the Study of War, satellite pictures do not indicate that Russia’s airborne forces, heavy artillery and Black Sea fleet are preparing for mass mobilization.

However, U.K. defense intelligence company Janes said that Russia has been covertly deploying elite ground units, often at night. “The moves appeared aimed less at intimidation than at producing an active threat,” Janes stated.

Illia Ponomarenko
Author: Illia Ponomarenko

Illia Ponomarenko is the defense and security reporter at the Kyiv Independent. He has reported about the war in eastern Ukraine since the conflict’s earliest days. He covers national security issues, as well as military technologies, production, and defense reforms in Ukraine. Besides, he gets deployed to the war zone of Donbas with Ukrainian combat formations. He has also had deployments to Palestine and the Democratic Republic of the Congo as an embedded reporter with UN peacekeeping forces. Illia won the Alfred Friendly Press Partners fellowship and was selected to work as USA Today's guest reporter at the U.S. Department of Defense.

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