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Russian troop concentration near the Ukrainian border

NATO Supreme Headquarters Allied Power’s Europe (SHAPE) released satellite images on 10 April 2014 it claimed showed a massive Russian military build-up along the border with Ukraine. According to SHAPE this force comprises roughly 40,000 combat infantry, supported by an unspecified number of tanks, armoured vehicles, artillery pieces and fixed and rotary wing aircraft. Critically, Russian forces are accompanied by field hospitals and mobile medical units indicating they are preparing to receive combat casualties. SHAPE assesses the force to be in a high state of readiness and ready to execute an invasion within 12 hours of receiving orders.

Russia appears to be preparing for a similar invasion scenario as in Crimea, using local Ukrainian proxy forces to create disorder and gain control of local infrastructure. Mobilised Russian infantry include highly mobile paratrooper and special forces units, which would quickly establish a ‘beachhead’ followed by a massive ground assault by Russian armoured forces. Ukraine’s military is in an extremely low state of readiness following decades of underinvestment, and the Russian presence in Transnistria threatens it with a potential second front. It is unlikely to be able to mount a sustained conventional defence in the event of a Russian attack.

Over the weekend of 12-13 April, pro-Russian paramilitaries seized local government buildings, police stations and security service headquarters in multiple towns across Ukraine. The attackers were well organised, armed and coordinated, indicating that they have received substantial external support from Russia. The Kiev government announced a major 'anti-terrorist' operation on Sunday, but has been unable to reassert its authority thus far.