As reported by Censor.NET citing The Free Beacon, a s many as 40,000 Russian troops, including tanks, armored vehicles, and air force units are now arrayed along Ukraine's eastern border with Russia.
Additionally, large numbers of Russian military forces will conduct exercises in the coming days that Pentagon officials say could be used as cover for an attack on Ukraine.
"Russian units will likely practice reinforcing the [Crimean] peninsula through such activities as amphibious landings and air defense exercises, and this may involve the change out of equipment and long convoys of military vehicles," one defense official said.
The military exercises are an ominous sign. Similar large-scale Russian exercises were conducted near Ukraine a month before Moscow carried out the covert military operation to take over the strategic Black Sea peninsula in March 2014.
Defense officials said it is not clear whether the massing of forces is saber-rattling by Moscow designed to coerce Ukraine into accepting the takeover of Crimea or preparations for further conflict. "Regardless of the reason, the warning time for Russian action has been greatly reduced" by the staging of forces near Ukraine, a second defense official said.
Russian military forces were identified by the officials at eight locations near the Ukrainian border: Yelnya, Klintsy, Valuyki, Boguchar, Millerovo, Persianovskiy, and bases called Rostov-1 and Rostov-2.
Mark Schneider, a former Pentagon official, said the troop movements are worrying signs that Moscow may be preparing for war with Ukraine. Schneider said another troubling sign of possible Russian military action was the recent firing of Putin's chief of staff, Sergei Ivanov, a former official of the KGB and FSB intelligence services. "Ivanov's firing could be related to Putin's desire not to have a powerful KGB/FSB general running the Kremlin when he is going to do something risky," he said.
Phillip Karber, a former U.S. arms control official who has traveled extensively in Ukraine war zones, identified several new military units at the eight locations, including up to two brigades of the newly established Russian First Guards Tank Army at Yelnya and Klintsy in the north, elements of the 20th Army located to the south of those units, and forces from the 49th Army deployed further south near Rostov.
"The fact that a full scale Russian invasion is still a plausible scenario after 30 months of conflict is an abject repudiation of an American policy of 'leading from behind' and West European fetish for trying to find 'off-ramps' that Putin hasn't the slightest interest in taking," said Karber, now head of the Potomac Foundation.
Karber believes Russian military action against Ukraine could take place and that Moscow's trumped-up claims of a recent Ukrainian "terrorist" attack in Crimea could be used as a pretext.
Russia appears to be shoring up forces in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, he said. The upcoming military exercises will likely be conducted from areas that could facilitate an attack, using Russian forces deployed in Moldova's Transnistria region and marine units on ships in the Black Sea, Karber said.
"For the next month the terrain is perfect for armor moving cross-country and the skies are clear for air," Karber said. "The 24th of August is Ukraine's Independence Day, which is when the Russians attacked in 2014. A successful campaign, with U.S. and NATO doing nothing but verbiage, re-establishes Russia as a major European Power that has to be dealt with and increases Putin's popularity at home."
Karber said a full-scale Russian military offensive likely would aim to seize key military-industrial areas such as the tank plant at Kharkiv, the missile factory at Dnipro, the shipyard at Mykoliv, and the port of Odesa.
Still, Russia does not appear to have all the forces in place for a major military operation, he said.
"The more aggressive and ambitious the attack, the further and longer it will isolate Russia from Western Europe, and it would gravely embarrass Putin's favorite American presidential candidate and make his pro-Russian statements look naive and foolish at best, or worse, an apologist for the aggressor," Karber said, referring to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.