MOSCOW: New satellite images suggest Russia has bolstered the overall readiness of its military deployments in Belarus, Crimea and western Russia by bringing in more personnel and troops, a private US satellite imagery company said on Wednesday.
Reuters could not independently verify the images from US-based Maxar Technologies, which it said were taken from Jan. 19 to Feb. 1.
A Russian military buildup near Ukraine has stoked fears that Moscow may plan to attack, something Russia denies. It says troops and hardware arriving in Belarus, north of Ukraine, are for joint manoeuvres.
Maxar said in a statement that, while Russia had deployed military equipment and units near Ukraine over the past couple of months, in many cases few troops or new accommodation units for additional personnel had been observed.
That had suggested that some of the units had been pre-positioned or forward-deployed, but the new images showed fresh and significant deployments in Belarus and more personnel at various military sites, it said.
"Troop tents/shelters for personnel have been seen at virtually every deployment location in Belarus, Crimea and western Russia which suggests that the units are now accompanied with troops and have increased their overall readiness level," Maxar said. "Moreover, local military training activity (including live-fire artillery and manoeuvre training) has been observed in progress at numerous training areas."
Konrad Muzyka, director of the Poland-based Rochan consultancy, said his own analysis had found an increase in personnel in units that were pre-positioned near Ukraine, and especially in Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.
He said he thought the Russian-Belarusian military exercises due this month would also be held in Crimea and western Russia.
"The biggest question is what will happen afterwards. Will they return home? Or will they move to staging areas? The exercise itself provides them with a great opportunity to mask movements to staging areas," he said.
The Belarusian Ministry of Defence has said the Russian military forces will leave Belarus after the drills.