On the evening of February 21, Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine and asked the Russian army to “keep peace” in the two pro-Russian breakaway regions. A few hours later, a column of armor arrived on the outskirts of a town near Donetsk.
But the military pressure extends further: in the north-east of Ukraine and in Belarus, the Russian army continues to build up forces, getting closer and closer to the border.
It only took hours for Putin’s words to bear fruit. On the evening of February 21, the Russian president announced the “immediate” recognition of the self-proclaimed pro-Russian republics of Donetsk and Lugansk.
Early the next morning, a Reuters witness photographed military vehicles near Donetsk in the town of Makevka. One of the tanks was an UR-77, according to Tom Bullock of Janes Intel, an open source intelligence firm, on Twitter. This tank is used to clear minefields with explosives and is a feature of the Russian arsenal.
The video appears to have been filmed on the outskirts of Makevka, and can be recognized by a visible sign emblazoned with the city’s name. The badge has an “E” missing. The tag can be found here.
Top left is a Reuters frozen snapshot from the morning of 02/22. Bottom right, a similar sign at the entrance to the town of Makeyivka, 12 km from Donetsk. © Reuters / Yandex Maps But Donetsk is not the only place where Moscow is moving. Elsewhere along the Ukrainian border, military tension continues to escalate.
Some camps are unloaded, others are under construction: the Soloti camp is located in the Russian Belgorod Oblast, 24 km from the northeastern border of Ukraine. Since the tensions between Kiev and Moscow began, it has been one of the main places where the Russian army mobilizes troops and equipment. But since February 20, armored vehicles began to leave the area.
In Soloti, two areas (here and here) were partially or completely cleared of equipment between February 16-20, 2022. US satellite imagery company Maxar claims that some Russian shields have moved south-south on the border with Ukraine.
Closer to Ukraine, a satellite image taken on February 20 shows the Russian encampment at Valwicki, 17 km from the border, just south of Soloti. This time, there are helicopters (of the Mi-8 family, they can carry troops and have limited ground attack capabilities), with clear markings on the ground around them, which may indicate recent movement.
Helicopters of the Russian army at Camp Valwicki on February 20, 2022. There were at least 27 helicopters at the base that day. © Maxar Other satellite images of Camp Falwicki, taken on February 15 and 20, show movement and reduced snow on the ground, indicating that vehicles have been moving there recently.
The Russian army has set up other camps in various places since February 15. Since then, Swiss internet user Coupsure has identified at least seven of them. For example, one of them is located near Soloti and Valuyki, which is closer to the Ukrainian border. Another was created in Belarus, near the Pripyat River, less than 3 km from the Ukrainian border.
Identification marks painted on a Russian tank
Another sign of the growing strength of Russian forces is the appearance on certain vehicles of the “Z” identification marks, which allow their crews to identify each other, distinguishing Russian equipment from almost identical Ukrainian equipment. On some tanks, anti-missile protection was installed on top of the turret.
In red, the “Z” markings placed on Russian armor near the Ukrainian border. © Left: TikTok 02/21/2022. Position: TikTok 02/21/2022. Right: TikTok 02/20/2022 In northern Belarus, troop movements also appear on social networks, a video clip was filmed on February 21 near the village of Novaya Grybelia, 12 kilometers from the border with Ukraine.
The convoy, apparently belonging to the Russian National Guard, is heading south towards Ukraine. Looking at the Mapillary app, which lists photos taken from roads around the world, there are at least two points of comparison between photos and video.
Between the video and the Mapillary photos, we can find at least two points of comparison: the road sign and the electricity pole. © Motolkohelp and Mapillary Following Vladimir Putin’s remarks, German Chancellor Olaf Schulz halted the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.
The European Union has proposed banning Russian authorities from accessing European financial markets and targeting banks that finance Russian military operations in the breakaway regions of Ukraine, according to a statement from The European Commission and the Council.