Amateur images cast doubt on Russian claims that troops are withdrawing from Ukraine border
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Russian authorities announced on Tuesday, February 15 a partial retreat of their troops from the Ukrainian border. But amateur images and satellite photos are casting doubt on those claims – because they show that the Russian army actually seems to be gathering troops to the east and north of Ukraine.
After spending months amassing troops to the north (Belarus), east (Russia) and south (occupied Crimea) of Ukraine, Russian authorities announced a partial retreat of their soldiers on February 15. Initially, this seemed to decrease the mounting diplomatic pressure around an explosive situation.
"Russian troops will return to their garrisons upon the completion of drills and units of Russia’s Southern and Western Military Districts have begun loading their equipment for their departure,” said a statement published by the official news agency Tass on February 16, citing Russian Defense Ministry Spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov. The next day, official Russian television published a video that it claimed showed "tanks in the western military district being prepared to return to their garrisons".
Tom Bullock, who works for the open-source defence analysis group Janes Intel, analysed the video and found that the footage doesn’t provide proof of a troop withdrawal. Depending on the footage, the visible tanks are either heading towards a railway station or towards a camp about 100 kilometres from the border with Ukraine, active since November 2021.
This piece of footage shows the opposite of what Russia claims is going on. The T-72B3M are moving from Otreshkovo and its railway station to the Postyalye Dvory training ground not away from the camp there. https://t.co/wiIhGBHW9E pic.twitter.com/9QNCSdBBWf— tom (@tom_bullock_) February 16, 2022
Russian authorities were quoted as saying that the 3rd, 42nd and 150th motorised divisions were retreating to their base camps in Russia in this article from Russian media outlet Izvestia. Rob Lee, a researcher specialised in the Russian army at King's College London, says that the base camps of the 3rd and 150th motorized divisions are actually very close to Ukraine.
Izvestia reports that units from the Western Military District's 3rd Motorized Rifle Division and Southern Military District's 42nd and 150th Motorized Rifle Divisions are returning to their permanent bases. The 3rd and 150th MRD are based near Ukraine.https://t.co/ukIfa8DXTx pic.twitter.com/EwkKcyfQEC— Rob Lee (@RALee85) February 16, 2022
An article from the Russian press and an interactive map show that the base for the 150th division is in Novotcherkassk (located in the Rostov Oblast, or district, 55 kilometres from the border), while the 3rd is historically located in Valuïky (Belgorod Oblast, 10 kilometres from the border) and Bogoutchar (Voronej Oblast, 45 kilometres from the border).
An influx of material that hasn’t stopped
A number of amateur videos, most posted on TikTok and then reposted on Twitter starting on February 15, show tanks, artillery and Russian military vehicles accumulating near the Ukrainian border, despite declarations by the authorities.
A video posted on February 15 by @volk05_sergej shows shows 152 mm 2S19 howitzers stacked up on a train. Our team was able to verify the location of this video through a YouTube video, filmed from a train in the Orel station. You can see similar features between this video and the videos posted on TikTok. It was indeed filmed in the train station in Orel, a town about 160 kilometres from the Ukrainian border.
We then checked the buildings in the video with satellite images to identify the exact location of the convoy on the tracks. The tracks lead to the towns of Briansk and Koursk, which are even closer to Ukraine. Russian troops are also stationed in both locations.
The Twitter account ELINT News analysed a video of Russian tanks posted on February 16 and discovered it was filmed in Tamarovka, 27 kilometres from the border.
If you don’t have it, columns of T-90’s and T-80’s unloaded in Tamarovka, Belgorod, 27km from Ukraine, yesterday and today it seems and are driving away from the train station— ELINT News (@ELINTNews) February 16, 2022
Video of T-90’s uploaded 1 hour ago was taken from 50°40'22"N 36°14'15"E https://t.co/0eoVKyCrh4 pic.twitter.com/bXmXlppOcm
At least 14 tanks, arranged in a convoy, are visible in this video filmed around 6pm on February 15, just 10 kilometres from the border with Ukraine.
This video is from outside of Borisovka, Russia – less than 10 km from the Ukrainian border. https://t.co/ZAIQAtJdzP— Moshe Schwartz (@YWNReporter) February 15, 2022
The military deployment isn’t just happening in Russia. In Belarus, there have also been developments within the Russian military that counter the government statements. On February 15, a bridge was set up across the Pripyat River, only 10 kilometres from the Ukrainian border. The bridge appears in satellite images.
However, on February 16, the day after the bridge appeared, it was no longer visible. A "highly unusual" incident, according to a western source cited by a Sky News journalist.
In Belarus, military exercises in cooperation with the Russian forces on the ground continued until February 20. Ukrainian authorities announced on February 15 that they had fallen victim to a cyberattack of “unprecedented” proportions, which paralyzed banks and government sites. Russia denied any involvement.