Fears of a Russian attack on Ukraine keep growing as Moscow continues to assemble forces near Ukraine’s border, as per imagery captured by private US company Maxar Technologies. Amid accusations that Western countries were being provocative, the Kremlin reiterated on Friday it reserves the right to move on Russian territory as it sees fit.
Reuters could not verify the new Maxar images, which were released on Thursday night.
They show a base in Crimea packed with hundreds of armoured vehicles and tanks as of December 13.
Crimea has been the subject of the fractured ties between Russia and Ukraine, once the two biggest republics of the Soviet Union, since Moscow seized and annexed Crimea, a Black Sea peninsula, in 2014.
The current apparent build-up is the latest escalation in a conflict that took strength in October after a brief build-up earlier in April.
Ever since, world leaders — the US, the EU and the Group of Seven — have accused President Vladimir Putin of planning an attack on Ukraine.
They have all warned he will face “massive consequences”, including tough economic sanctions, strict export controls and potentially blocking the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, in the event of any new Russian aggression, which according to US President Joe Biden could now happen as soon as next month.
The Kremlin has repeatedly denied this. However, the base shown on the latest satellite imagery could be seen half empty in satellite images from October.
He said: “You must give us guarantees, and immediately – now.
“We just directly posed the question that there should be no further NATO movement to the east. The ball is in their court, they should answer us with something.”
The Kremlin wants NATO to commit to limiting its presence in Ukraine, which is not part of the security alliance, and not allow the country to join the alliance. It views Kyiv’s tight relations with NATO members as a threat.
Moscow has said it expects talks with US officials on the crisis to start in January in Geneva. It comes after Russia handed security proposals to the US that it said had been generally well-received.
An official from the Biden administration said: “I expect we will have our substantive response in those (January) talks…. clearly there are some things that have been proposed that we’ll never agree to.
“I think the Russians probably know that on some level. I think there are other areas where we may be able to explore what’s possible.”
When asked on Friday about the build-up of Russian troops near Ukraine, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said: “Russia is moving its own troops around on its own territory against the backdrop of highly unfriendly actions by our opponents in NATO, the United States and various European countries who are carrying out highly unambiguous manoeuvres near our borders.
“This forces us to take certain measures to guarantee our own security.”