Russia has added troops, aircraft, and weapons to Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in what amounts to a “significant” buildup of forces over the past 18 months, according to U.S. intelligence officials, observers, and new satellite photos that reveal the locations of new S-400 air defense systems and improvements to Soviet-era bases.
Those officials and observers of the region say the additional firepower gives Moscow greater defensive control over the Black Sea and puts offensive fighters and ships closer to the Middle East, defenseone.com informs.
The photos, taken between January 2018 and April 2019 by private satellite imaging company Planet Labs and provided to Defense One, show five S-400 batteries, five S-300 air-defense systems, and fighter jets at four locations. They also show improvements to Soviet-era military installations.
In recent interviews, two U.S. intelligence officials authorized to speak only on background detailed Russia’s recent activity on Crimea. One said that it is the assessment of their agency that Russia was engineering “a deliberate and systematic buildup of their forces on the peninsula.” Both declined to confirm or deny what the Planet Labs photos purport to show.
Observers said the development likely means that Moscow has no near-term intention of returning the Ukrainian territory it seized in 2014, which the United States has said is required before it will resume normalized relations.
Since 2014, Russia has added an airborne battalion to the naval infantry brigade that has guarded Crimea since the 1990s, doubling the total force there to an estimated 30,000 troops. Moscow plans to add another 13,000 within four years, said the first U.S. intelligence official.
The Russian military now has 81 airplanes and helicopters in Crimea. “The combat radius covers all Ukraine and beyond the Black Sea. It significantly increases their strike options, potentially extending to the Middle East,” an official said.
Russia’s Black Sea Fleet recently added 10 warships that can launch the Kalibr cruise missile: six-diesel electric Kilo-class attack submarines and four surface ships, the official said. The current versions of the Kalibr can hit targets up to 1,500 miles away; and Russia claims to be working on a new variant with a range of 2,800 miles, defenseone.com also informs.