The photos taken on April 8, provided to Global News by American space technology company Maxar, show a large Russian military convoy consisting of hundreds of vehicles moving south through the Ukrainian town of Velykyi Burluk, which is just north of the Donbas.
The convoy contained armoured vehicles, trucks with towed artillery and support equipment, Maxar said.
The imagery adds to the growing reports Russia is preparing to begin a significant assault in the Donbas, a region that has seen ongoing fighting between Russian-backed rebels and Ukrainian forces since 2014.
Moscow’s troop movements have been documented by western allies following the launch of the widespread war on Feb. 24. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces failed to capture a single major Ukrainian city, including the capital Kyiv, after weeks of significant resistance.
Russia is now doubling its efforts in the east, Great Britain’s defence ministry said on Monday as Moscow continued shelling the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Powerful explosions rocked cities in the south and east, and air raid sirens blared out across Ukraine early Monday.
However, Ukrainian forces had beaten back several assaults and destroyed Russian tanks, vehicles and artillery equipment, it said in its regular intelligence update.
On Sunday night, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the coming week will be important.
“Russian troops will move to even larger operations in the east of our state,” he said.
“They may use even more missiles against us, even more air bombs. But we are preparing for their actions. We will answer.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg last week said the military alliance would boost weapons supplies to Ukraine due to the planned offensive.
“In the coming weeks, we expect a further Russian push in eastern and southern Ukraine to try to take the entire Donbas and to create a land bridge to occupied Crimea,” he said.
Last month, Russia hinted it was going to begin shifting its military campaign to the Donbas after claiming success in its initial operation — reducing the effectiveness of Ukraine’s armed forces.
“The combat potential of the armed forces of Ukraine has been considerably reduced, which … makes it possible to focus our core efforts on achieving the main goal, the liberation of Donbas,” said Sergei Rudskoi, head of the Russian General Staff’s main operational directorate.
Reframing Russia’s goals may make it easier for Putin to claim a face-saving victory, military analysts have said. Moscow had said its goals included demilitarizing Ukraine. Western officials dismiss that as a baseless pretext for a war they said is aimed at toppling Ukraine’s government.
Just before the war began, Putin recognized the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk in the Donbas as independent states, home to two Russian separatists movements since 2014. Putin’s Feb. 21 decision drew widespread criticism from the West, which recognizes the regions as Ukrainian territory.
Russia’s war — the most serious conflict in Europe since the Balkans wars of the 1990s — has left a trail of death and destruction that has drawn condemnation from the West and triggered concern about Putin’s broader ambitions.
About a quarter of Ukraine’s 44 million population have been forced from their homes, cities turned into rubble, and thousands of people have been killed or injured — many of them civilians.
Peace talks have yet to produce any breakthroughs, and Russia said on Monday it would not stop the war while the negotiations happen.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told state television he saw no reason not to continue talks with Ukraine, but insisted Moscow would not halt its military operation when the sides convene again.
He claimed Putin had ordered to suspend military action during the first round of talks between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators in late February, but that Moscow’s position had changed since.
“After we became convinced that the Ukrainians were not planning to reciprocate, a decision was made that during the next rounds of talks, there would be no pause (in military action) so long as a final agreement is not reached,” Lavrov said.
Last week, Lavrov accused Ukraine of presenting Moscow with an “unacceptable” draft peace deal. Kyiv dismissed his comments as a tactic to undermine Ukraine or divert attention from war crime accusations against Russian troops.
— with files from Reuters.
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