Ukraine Liveblog Day 37: Russian Troops on the Move?

March 26, 2014
Ukrainian Soldiers dig trenches for their APCs outside a military base. | Kyiv Post/Anastasia Vlasova

Russian troops and armor are reportedly on the move today, as Ukraine struggles to get its military mobilized to stop any potential invasion.

Yesterday’s liveblog can be found here. For an overview and analysis of this developing story see our latest podcast.

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Below, we will be making regular updates throughout the day.

1903 GMT: Oleksandr Turchynov, acting President of Ukraine, has announced that four Ukrainian officers who were captured in Crimea are being released. The four officers are Major-General Igor Voronchenko, deputy commander of the Ukrainian Navy, Colonel Yuli Mamchur, Lieutenant Colonel Dmitry Delyatitsky and Major Rostislav Lomtev. Turchynov said:

I want to assure you that, thanks to measures we have taken, their release is under way right now, and I am very hopeful that we will be able to see them in Kiev tomorrow.

Those officers, who showed such bravery, will undoubtedly be rewarded and promoted in the service for their courage and perseverance.

1836 GMT: We’ve submitted some of the videos we’re watching to Storyful’s Open Newsroom. The crack team has been able to geolocate some of the videos. Julia Karmo of Sky News Broadcasting has geolocated this video, which was taken yesterday in Novozybkov, in the Bryansk region of Russia. Karmo notes that the trains are on tracks that lead to towards Belarus or towards Ukranine. See the details, and additional videos here.

Storyful’s Felim McMahon has also geolocated two videos from Somova, north-northeast from Voronezh (map). McMahon notes that Storyful has also confirmed the date of the videos, and they match videos we’ve posted earlier. One of the videos is below and the other can be read on the thread:

What this means is that The Interpreter confirmed troop movements before the Crimean referendum (jump to update 1615 for details) , and Storyful and the Open Newsroom have now confirmed troop movements in the last two days, matching eyewitness reports.

The Russian army is on the move, and as one can see from the videos, they are packing some serious firepower.

1825 GMT: Fox News has consulted Ukraine’s defense ministry, who says that reports of increased Russian troop movements just over the border are “worrying.”

Local social media sites have shown numerous amateur videos purported to show Russian tanks and other heavy armored vehicles on the move in the past few days. They are seen either driving along roads or being transported on trains. In one case, vehicles are shown being off-loaded from flatbed freight trains. The vehicles include mobile communication units.

The locations include Vornezh [Voronezh], a Russian city northeast of the major Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, and Novozybkiv, a Russian city directly north of Kiev, 50 miles from the Russia-Ukraine border.

The reason for the uptick in activity could be new rounds of military exercises, rotation of troops or for some unspecified reason, the spokesman told Fox News.

We’ve still not confirmed the location of troops, tanks, and other equipment that have reportedly been filmed moving across parts of Russia today. Ukraine’s defense ministry told Fox that they have not been able to confirm the reports either.

1757 GMT: More reports on build-ups of Russian military forces near the Ukrainian border. Censor.NET reports sightings of units of the elite 2nd Taman Motor Rifle Division near the border with Ukraine. About 400 troops in BMP and BTR vehicles and a company of 10 tanks were reported near the settlements of Kalinovka and Amon in the Kursk oblast, less than 10km from the Ukrainian border.

Russian forces have also been reported near Belgorod, around 40km from the border. The reported units include three battalions of the 76th Pskov Airborne Assault Division and two battalions of the 106th Tula Airborne Assault Division – around 1,100 people and 120 vehicles.

140316 - belgorod bypass hinds helicopters

Furthermore, on the bypass road near Belgorod, more than 25 Mi-24 Hind attack helicopters have been spotted (photo above).

1747 GMT: Yevgeny Perebiynis, the director of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry’s information department, has warned that Crimean citizens will soon be threatened with jail, labour, or huge fines for speaking out against Russian incorporation. Perebiynis, as Ukrainska Pravda reports, pointed out that on May 9, the law, signed off by President Putin in Janurary, will prohibit “public incitement to commit acts which are aimed at violating the territorial integrity of Russia”. Punishments may include a fine of up to 300,000 rubles, up to 300 hours of compulsory labour, or imprisonment of up to 3 years. Internet postings will be subject to the same punishments. Perebiynis said that:

Our particular concern is the fact that the Russian authorities in the annexed territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea will impose additional restrictions on citizens’ expression and freedom of speech.

1620 GMT: The Russian news outlet Interfax reports that Russia will send Tu-22M3 long-range strategic and maritime strike bombers to Crimea. The move, which will happen in 2016, will be accompanied by a bolstering of other Russian garrisons and strike forces in Crimea, including a deployment of the 4th generation Su-27, the Tupolev Tu-142 ASW, IL-38, and Ka-27 and Ka-29 helicopters.

1615 GMT: The week before the Crimean referendum, eyewitnesses saw huge amounts of Russian armor on the move near Russia’s borders with Ukraine. Early in the week, around March 12-13th, videos reportedly showed large-scale troop movement north of Kharkiv. We were able to confirm the location of some of the heavy armor and supply convoys that were on the move.

After the annexation of Crimea, however, there was a military deescalation. Sources told us that the Russian troops were in position, but were no longer on the move in large numbers, and were not yet massed in large enough numbers that an invasion would be possible. Earlier this week, however, NATO began to once again raise the alarm that Russian forces were gathering to potentially invade Ukraine, or even move on to Moldova. Today, there are reports that Russian troops are indeed on the move near Ukraine’s borders.

We have not yet geolocated any of the videos of mass troop movements today, but we have also yet to debunk them, and there are a significant amount of reports from various areas north of Ukraine of large amounts of troops and equipment on the move.

There is another key difference. Much of the equipment spotted on the move today are not just troop transports and APCs. What we are seeing is reports of main battle tanks, support equipment, and other heavy weaponry. If Russia was not ready to invade two weeks ago, could these reinforcements be enough for an invasion?

It’s worth noting that journalists have also reported that the Ukrainian military has been moving convoys around the country today. And this video (again, unverified) claims to show Ukrainian armor on the move in the Donetsk region today:

1545 GMT: The Interpreter’s editor-in-chief has interviewed Ayla Bakkalli, the U.S. representative for the Crimean Tatar Mejlis. Bakkalli warns that Russia has already taken steps tp isolate Crimea’s Tatar population, and that an even worse fate could soon unfurl. But will Tatar’s face the “Chechnya scenario”?

Already, the pro-Russian camp has made ominous moves, prompting sympathetic European countries such as Lithuania to prepare for another Tatar refugee crisis. About 20 people have been kidnapped in Crimea since Russia invaded. Three are still missing, including Ivan Selentsov, a Tatar. Another Tatar activist, Reshat Ametov, was discovered murdered in a forest after last being seen in the hands of a pro-Russian militia. Dzhalil Ibrahimov told the Guardian that these militias “have started to burn fires near the village at night, so we know they are there and they are close.” Then, on March 20, a tocsin for Tatar ethnic cleansing was rung by none other than Rustam Termigaliyev: “We have asked the Crimean Tatars to vacate part of their land, which is required for social needs,” the Crimean vice premier said. “But we are ready to allocate and legalize many other plots of land to ensure a normal life for the Crimean Tatars.”

A normal life, or “normalization” in the Soviet sense? Either way, Bakkalli is terrified. “Another genocide has started already,” she said. “The groundwork has been laid. They’re grabbing land, they’re expelling people, and they painting Xs on the homes of the Tatars to mark them out as fifth columnists. Do you understand how chilling that is for us?”

There are reports that Tatar men are relocating their families abroad and returning to the peninsula solo. I ask Bakkalli whether this suggests that they intend to take up arms and fight back, perhaps forming their own self-defense militias. “That is correct,” she replies. “They’re worried about their parents, their grandparents, their wives, and their children. They feel much more mobility and freedom when they’re by themselves. And they will not let Crimea go.” The Kurultay is going to “recalibrate” in the coming weeks, Bakkalli says, and determine its response to Russia’s seizure.

Read the entire article here: “Another genocide has started already”

1433 GMT: The tanks reported near the border north of Kiev are not just on trains, either. Take this video (which we are still working to verify) reportedly showing Russian tanks on the ground and on the move near Novozybkov, which is just north of the Ukrainian capital. If these tanks are where the video says they are, they’re within an hour from the Ukrainian border.


1422 GMT: Social media is flooded today with fresh pictures, videos, and reports of Russian tanks and troops on the move towards the Ukrainian border.


These videos, reportedly taken yesterday, claim to show lots of Russian armor loaded on trains in Voronezh, a Russian town just northeast of Kharkiv (map). We have not yet been able to geolocate the videos, however.

These were reportedly taken in Novozybkov, just north of Kiev (map)





We haven’t been able to geolocate these videos either (yet), but there are countless reports like this from cities and towns across Russia’s southern border with Ukraine.

1346 GMT: Was the Crimean referendum legitimate? Is Russia going to invade Ukraine? Moldova? Did NATO provoke Russia into aggressive expansionism? Is the Russian media changing its tune on how it defines the Ukrainian revolution? Is what happened in Ukraine a blow to efforts to combat nuclear proliferation?

In this week’s podcast, Boston College Professor Matt Sienkiewicz and Interpreter Magazine’s managing editor James Miller discuss the latest from Ukraine and Moscow. Listen below, or click here to open in a new window, where we also provide links to previous podcasts.