Russia has amassed more than 130,000 troops near Ukraine’s border in recent weeks, according to US estimates, raising fears from Western and Ukrainian intelligence officials that an invasion could be imminent.
As frantic diplomatic efforts are made to avert war, Russia announced Tuesday that some of its troops would return to base after completing recent drills on Ukraine’s doorstep, but said that major military exercises would continue.
Still, Western leaders and analysts are warning that Russia’s military poses an immediate threat to Ukraine.
If an invasion were to occur, it is not clear where it would begin. Russia has created pressure points on three sides of Ukraine – in Crimea to the south, on the Russian side of the two countries’ border, and in Belarus to the north.
Here are the three fronts Ukraine and the West are watching, and the recent Russian movements detected in each.
Most attention has been paid to the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, where Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists have been in conflict since 2014.
The foremost assumption of those watching Russian movements is that Moscow could boost the military might it already possesses in the region, therefore making eastern Ukraine the easiest position from which to launch an invasion.
Satellite imagery obtained by CNN shows that a large base at Yelnya, which held Russian tanks, artillery and other armor, has been largely emptied, with the equipment apparently being moved much closer to the frontier in recent days.
Large amounts of weaponry were moved to the base late in 2021 before disappearing – including some 700 tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and ballistic missile launchers. Social media videos since show some of that equipment on trains and roads much further south in the Bryansk region, which is close to Ukraine. The armor and vehicles are identifiably from the same units that had pre-positioned at Yelnya.
Stephen Wood, senior director at satellite imagery 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 t