Russian troops are moving out of staging areas and heading toward combat positions as it builds up its capacity to attack Ukraine, according to new satellite images released Monday by Maxar Technologies.
Maxar collected new satellite images Sunday and Monday that reveal increased Russian military activity in western Russia, Belarus, and Crimea.
“Significant new activity includes the arrival of several large deployments of troop and attack helicopters, new deployments of ground attack aircraft and fighter-bomber jets to forward locations, the departure of multiple ground forces units from existing garrisons along with other combat units seen in convoy formation,” Maxar said in a release explaining the images it is sharing.
For months, Russia has been building up its troop levels around Ukraine to the point where U.S. officials say it could launch an attack at any time.
The Pentagon Monday afternoon said it still does not know if Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to launch an attack. But they say he is ready if he so choses.
“Even over the last 24 to 48, over the course of the weekend, Mr. Putin has added military capability along that border with Ukraine and in Belarus,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters Monday afternoon. “He continues to add to his readiness. He continues to give himself more options, should he pursue a military path here.”
Putin “continues to advance his readiness, should he choose to go down a military path here, and should he choose to invade again, he is doing all the things you would expect him to do to make sure he’s ready for that option, or options,” Kirby said.
While Ukrainian military officials have long said they anticipated Putin was planning to attack, U.S. officials have been more urgent in their warnings about the immediacy of any action.
“I would tell you that we have been very transparent with our Ukrainian partners about the intelligence assessments that we’ve been seeing and the things that we’ve been seeing in that environment, and I’m comfortable and confident that it has been of a sufficient level of detail to convince,” Kirby said.
Kirby repeated that a diplomatic solution is still the preferred outcome as talks continued Monday. The Associated Press reported that the Kremlin signaled it is ready to continue talks about the crisis in Ukraine. Moscow has repeatedly denied any intentions to invade Ukraine, but also requested security guarantees that NATO would not extend membership to Ukraine or other ex-Soviet nations, a request that Washington has rejected.
President Joe Biden spoke to Putin in a phone call on Saturday, but the White House did not signal the call diminished any possible threat of an imminent war in Europe.
American officials now say Russia has more than 130,000 troops near the Ukraine border.
The satellite images released by Maxar in the last several months show troops stationed around Ukraine to the north, around the western border with Russia, and on the Crimean Peninsula. Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.
Over the weekend, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered members of the Florida National Guard who were stationed in Ukraine to reposition elsewhere in Europe. He is also scheduled to attend a NATO meeting in Brussels and then visit American troops deployed to eastern Europe this week. In recent weeks, Austin ordered 4,700 members of the 82nd Airborne Division to Poland in a show of support. Additional troops are set up in Germany and Romania. The U.S. Air Force is also building its presence in eastern Europe.
Biden has promised that American troops will not be sent into Ukraine in the event of a Russian incursion. Kirby told reporters Friday that some U.S. troops may help Americans who evacuate Ukraine if there is an invasion. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday announced the temporary relocation of embassy operations in Ukraine from Kyiv to Lviv “due to the dramatic acceleration in the buildup of Russian forces.” He “strongly” urged “any remaining U.S. citizens in Ukraine to leave the country immediately.”