A pro-Russia protester stands at a barricade outside a
regional government building in Donetsk, Ukraine.
NATO has presented satellite photographs it says show
Russian deployments of 40,000 troops near the Ukrainian
frontier along with tanks, armoured vehicles, artillery and
aircraft ready for action.
"This is a force that is very capable, at high readiness,
and, as we have illustrated through the imagery, is close to
routes and lines of communication," British Brigadier Gary
Deakin said at a briefing at NATO military headquarters at
Mons in southern Belgium.
"It has the resources to be able to move quickly into Ukraine
if it was ordered to do so," he said.
If Russian political leaders took a decision to send forces
into Ukraine, the first Russian forces could be on the move
within 12 hours.
NATO has spotted Russian forces at more than 100 different
sites close to the Ukraine border, he said.
The Western alliance showed the pictures supplied by
commercial satellite imagery firm DigitalGlobe to bolster its
warnings of a Russian military buildup that could threaten
A Russian official, quoted by a state-run news agency, said
the photographs were from August last year. Russia has denied
massing forces near the border and accuses NATO of fomenting
concern to rally support for the alliance.
NATO foreign ministers asked military planners last week to
draw up a range of options for bolstering NATO forces in
central and eastern European allies nervous about Russian
intentions after its occupation and annexation of Ukraine's
Those options have now been delivered to NATO headquarters
and NATO ambassadors are expected to take decisions based on
them "within a week to two weeks," Deakin said.
He ruled out the alliance sending forces to non-NATO member
"I wouldn't envisage us deploying troops in Ukraine, that's
not in our thinking," he said.
The United States and other NATO members have already sent
extra planes to reinforce eastern European allies.
A Pentagon spokesperson said the destroyer USS Donald Cook
arrived in the Black Sea on Thursday for exercises. The U.S.
vessel is expected to be working with ships from Romania,
Bulgaria and Turkey.
Many of the sites in the satellite images appeared to be
fields rather than established bases. The sites were located
between about 20 km (12 miles) and 150 km of the Ukraine
border, according to images that NATO said were taken between
March 22 and April 2.
Russian troop numbers had remained at about the same level
since then, Deakin said.
An official in the Russian military general staff said the
NATO satellite photographs were taken in August 2013,
state-run news agency RIA reported.
"These photographs that were distributed by NATO depict units
of Russian forces of the Southern Military District which
conducted various exercises last summer, some of them near
the border with Ukraine," RIA quoted what it said was a
high-level official in the Russian general staff as saying.
A NATO official responded that the images were from March and
April this year and each image showed the date it was taken.
Several images dated March 26 and taken around the Russian
town of Belgorod, 40 km from the Ukraine border, showed units
of a motorised rifle regiment, Mil Mi-8 and Mi-24
helicopters, tanks and infantry fighting vehicles, supply and
transport vehicles, according to NATO.
Other satellite pictures, dated March 27 and taken near
Novocherkassk, showed units of a motorised rifle regiment, a
"probable" anti-tank battalion and artillery.
More images, dated March 22 and taken near the port of Yeysk,
just 20 km from Ukrainian airspace, showed four Su-33 fighter
aircraft and an airborne early warning plane, while other
pictures, dated April 2, showed Su-27, Su-30, Su-24 and
MiG-31 warplanes at the formerly vacant Buturlinovka air
base, 150 km from the Ukraine border, according to NATO.