Russian ships, tanks and troops on the move to Ukraine

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Russia has sent troops more than 4,000 miles to Ukraine’s borders and announced sweeping naval drills as Moscow expands its preparations for a potential attack on Ukraine as negotiations appear at a deadlock.

Six Russian landing ships capable of carrying main main battle tanks, troops and other military vehicles travelled through the Channel en route to the Mediterranean last week in a deployment that could bolster an amphibious landing on Ukraine’s southern coast if Vladimir Putin orders an attack. Ukraine’s military intelligence has claimed that Russia is hiring mercenaries and supplying its proxy forces in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions with fuel, tanks and self-propelled artillery in preparation for a potential upsurge in fighting.

And a large military force, including Iskander short-range ballistic missiles, elite spetsnaz troops and anti-aircraft batteries, has arrived in Belarus from Russia’s eastern military district, an extraordinary deployment that western officials and analysts say could enable Moscow to threaten Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital.

The new deployments have worried US officials. “What concerns us is the total picture,” said a senior state department official in a briefing last week. “It is the amassing of 100,000 troops along Ukraine’s borders combined with moving forces into Belarus over the weekend … these numbers are beyond, of course, what we would expect with regard to a normal exercise.”

The new forces in Belarus, the official added, represent an “increased capability for Russia to launch this attack, increased opportunity, increased avenues, increased routes”.

The US president, Joe Biden, last week said that Putin himself may not know what he plans to do. But the results are either reckless brinkmanship or preparations for a large-scale military operation.

As Russia’s buildup nears completion, US and European countries have stepped up military support for Ukraine. The UK last week sent more than 2,000 NLAW (next generation light anti-tank weapon) launchers and deployed about 30 troops from a new ranger regiment as trainers.

Estonia has said it will provide Javelin anti-tank missiles, while Lithuania and Latvia will send Stinger anti-aircraft missiles. In a shift, the Netherlands also said it would be ready to provide defensive weapons to Ukraine. And the US has said it will increase aid and send Mi-17 transport helicopters originally meant for use in Afghanistan to Ukraine instead.

Photo – A file photo of Russian military vehicles during the Kavkaz-2020 (The Caucasus 2020) military exercises in Prudboy range in Volgograd region, Russia. EPA-EFE/MAXIM SHIPENKOV

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