Vladimir Putin says Russia is ordering a “partial” drawdown, but the aerial satellites are providing a much more mixed picture of the mass Russian military forces are now threatening Ukraine.
Photos taken by commercial imaging company Planet show the Russian military building a pontoon bridge Tuesday over the Pripyat River near the Russia-Belarus border. It is located near the exclusion zone around the damaged nuclear reactor at Chernobyl in Ukraine, the site of the 1986 reactor explosion.
The image appears as Ukraine and NATO countries remain competitive amid mixed signals Russia’s military buildup on a scale not seen in decades. US intelligence has repeatedly warned that, if ordered, Russian forces would be in the optimal position to launch an invasion of Ukraine as early as Wednesday.
In the event of a Russian invasion, analysts fear the bridge could be one of many potential routes for Russian forces currently deployed to Belarus for exercises aimed at pushing deeper into Ukrainian territory.
Russian military scholar Rob Lee, a senior fellow at the Institute for Foreign Policy Studies, has identified Russian engineering units and buoys that are entering Belarus. at the beginning of february. The authorities of the Ministry of Defense of Belarus announced late last week that Russian military units practiced “Crossing a Water Barrier” across the Pripyat River.
The bridge isn’t the only potential Russian threat captured by satellite this week. While some photos show at least some Russian military equipment thinning in occupied Crimea, photos taken elsewhere in the territory show Moscow expanding its footprint.
On Tuesday, satellite company Capella Space captured a composite aperture radar image of Russia’s Oktyabrskoye airbase in Crimea. Images of the base, taken by Capella Space and reviewed by HawkEye 360 mission applications director and imaging expert Chris Biggers, show the likely relocation of Russian equipment, including a nest new engine assembly, an expansion camp for local staff and 19 new helicopters.
Moscow appears to be sticking to its official line in a partial retreat. Officials of the Russian Defense Ministry photo distribution intends to display Russian armored vehicles loaded onto trains on their way back to Russia from Bakhchysarai, in Russian-occupied Crimea. In a post on the ministry’s website, defense officials said units from Russia’s southern military district, which is responsible for military operations in Crimea, “have fulfilled their duties as a part of the planned tactical exercises” and “started returning to their permanent deployment points in the morning.”
Although satellite images provided by Capella Space appear to show that at least some of the Russian military facilities on Ukraine’s territory are fully operational, it is not clear where that equipment was transferred.
“Bakhchysarai has previously deployed tank brigades, self-propelled artillery and armored personnel carriers,” Biggers told The Daily Beast. “Video posted to TikTok earlier this week shows elements in a nearby field. As of February 15, those and previously parked elements were likely loaded at a nearby rail transit point for relocation. It’s still not clear where. ”