New satellite imagery shows that a large base that held Russian tanks, artillery and other armor near the Ukrainian border has been largely emptied, with the equipment apparently being moved much closer to the frontier in recent days.
The base is at Yelnya. Yelnya base is located southeast of the city of Smolensk and about 160 miles from the Ukrainian border. A large amount of equipment and weapons delivered here from the end of 2021, including 700 tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and ballistic missile launchers.
By now, most of that equipment is no longer there, according to satellite images cited by CNN on February 6. Satellite cloud cover had taken pictures of the base several days before, but the satellite images showed traces of vehicle departures.
Stephen Wood, senior director of satellite imaging company Maxar, told CNN: “It looks to me like a considerable amount of the vehicles [tanks, self-propelled artillery and other support vehicles] have departed from the northeastern vehicle park; additional armored vehicles departed from the more central vehicle park.”
Konrad Muzyka, an expert with the consulting firm Rochan, said that what happened in Yelnya was one of “many important changes in the composition of Russia’s forces and their position”.
“We are entering the new stage of the build-up where we are seeing pre-positioned units being manned with additional personnel and that equipment is being moved probably to staging areas,” Muzyka told CNN.
Videos posted on social media in the past few days show some equipment on trains and by road heading south down to the Bryansk region, which is closer to Ukraine. Those armored vehicles and transport vehicles were identified to have been present at the Yelnya base before.
“There are now many indications that soldiers have begun to be sent to forward camps to combine with pre-prepared facilities. Video posted on social media shows some soldiers from Siberia being transported, while their vehicles and weapons were delivered to locations in Smolensk and Bryansk,” wrote Thomas Bullock, an analyst at Janes.
A US intelligence document dated December 3, 2021, citing satellite images, showed that the base in Yelnya was empty the previous June, but by November there were five tactical battalions present, with Each battalion consists of approximately 1,000 soldiers and support forces.
Much of the equipment belongs to the 41st Combined Army Corps, which is normally based in Russia’s Central Military District and is based in Novosibirsk in Siberia.
Mr. Muzyka believes there is a significant movement of Russian forces and facilities elsewhere as well. “We are seeing a large number of vehicles and troops in Kursk,” Muzyka wrote on Twitter on February 6. Kursk is about 100km from the Ukrainian border.
Phillip Karber, an expert at the Potomac Foundation in Washington, has studied the details of Russia’s force movements. “Russia’s strongest offensive formation is the 1st Guards Tank Army, which is normally based in the Moscow region, but has moved about 400km south and is assembling in the optimal position for a quick attack. quickly by armored vehicles on the Khursk – Kiev route”.
On February 6, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan told ABC News that Russia could attack Ukraine as soon as tomorrow or in the next few weeks.
Some US officials say that Russia has assembled about 70% of the power needed for an all-out assault on Ukraine. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied that it planned to attack the neighboring country.