Latest high-resolution satellite imagery from Maxxar technology shows that Russian troop build-up on the border with Ukraine looks undiminished despite Moscow having released visuals purportedly showing the withdrawal of troops from undisclosed locations.
The images show Russia has moved some of its military equipment to tactical positions near Ukraine. Other military hardware has arrived in the region. The new satellite images by Maxar show the extent of Russian activity at several key locations in Belarus, Crimea and western Russia, as fears mount of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Russia appears to have built a pontoon bridge just kilometres from Belarus' border with Ukraine, undermining Moscow's claim that it has been withdrawing troops from the region, according to the satellite images released by the US firm.
Maxar Technologies said the images revealed a new bridge built over the Pripyat river in Belarus, less than six kilometres from the Ukrainian border, and a new field hospital at a training site in the town of Osipovichi. 20 attack helicopters were also stationed near Belarus although the rest of the force there seems to have departed, they said.
Moscow denies it has plans to attack its western neighbour, but is demanding a guarantee that Ukraine will never join NATO and that the Western alliance remove forces from Eastern Europe, demands the West has refused.
The United States has also refused to believe Russia's claims and has challenged it to back up the withdrawal announcement with more proof, with US defence officials claiming that over 40% of the troops arrayed on the border have been moved into "tactical" positions.
Russia had said this week that it would be pulling some troops from Ukraine's border which were involved in military exercise with Belarus, also the Russian defence ministry said mid-week that forces involved in military exercise in Crimea were being sent back to the barracks, although it said the warplanes were being redeployed to other regions for drills.
On Saturday, Russia's TAAS agency reported that the army would conduct an exercise of the "strategic deterrence force under the direction of supreme Commander-in-Chief Vladimir Putin". The large-scale nuclear drills have been promoted as "routine" but watchdogs and Western allies believe it is an ominous sign even as tensions over attack persist.
Russia's defence ministry said it will launch "ballistic and cruise missiles" during the drills while adding that the "strategic deterrence force drills" were planned in advance. The drills will involve the aerospace force, the southern military district, the strategic missile force and the Northern and Black Sea fleets with all "three components" of the strategic nuclear forces involved in the exercise.