NATO released a series of satellite images on Thursday showing what a top general described as " Russian combat soldiers, equipped with sophisticated heavy weaponry ... operating inside Ukraine’s sovereign territory."
According to a statement posted on the NATO website, the photos "confirmed what NATO and its Allies had been seeing for weeks from other sources." This is a direct contradiction of recent statements made by Kremlin officials and a pro-Russian separatist leader in Ukraine who said all of the Russian troops who had entered the country were on "their vacations" and assisting the separatists on a volunteer basis.
"Over the past two weeks we have noted a significant escalation in both the level and sophistication of Russia’s military interference in Ukraine," Dutch Brigadier General Nico Tak, director of the Comprehensive Crisis and Operations Management Centre (CCOMC), Allied Command Operation, said in the NATO statement. " The satellite images released today provide additional evidence that Russian combat soldiers, equipped with sophisticated heavy weaponry, are operating inside Ukraine’s sovereign territory."
Tak said the pictures indicated there were " substantial numbers of Russian combat troops inside Ukraine" as well as " large quantities of advanced weapons, including air defense systems, artillery, tanks, and armored personnel carriers being transferred to separatist forces in Eastern Ukraine."
" Russia is reinforcing and resupplying separatist forces in a blatant attempt to change the momentum of the fighting, which is currently favoring the Ukrainian military," Tak said. "Russia's ultimate aim is to alleviate pressure on separatist fighters in order to prolong this conflict indefinitely, which would result in further tragedy for the people of eastern Ukraine."
NATO released five satellite photos. According to NATO, the first picture shows "Russian military units moving in a convoy formation with self-propelled artillery in the area of Krasnodon, Ukraine" on Aug. 21.
" There is confidence the equipment is Russian, since Ukrainian units have not yet penetrated this far into separatist controlled territory," the statement said.
NATO's statement said the second picture showed more self-propelled artillery units "supported by logistical vehicles which are likely carrying extra ammunition and supplies."
" This configuration is exactly how trained military professionals would arrange their assets on the ground, indicating that these are not unskilled amateurs, but Russian soldiers," said the statement.
The third satellite photo included two images.
NATO said the one on the left was taken on June 19 when the area was "mostly empty" and the one on the right was taken Aug. 20 in the same area when " main battle tanks, armored personnel carriers, cargo trucks and tented accommodations" were all visible .
NATO said the fourth picture was taken July 23 and showed self-propelled guns in a town just inside Ukraine's southern border.
" The guns are pointed north, directly towards Ukrainian territory," the statement said.
The last image shows what NATO described as a "wider overview" of the guns seen in the fourth picture.
" It is clear that from this location, it would be impossible NOT to fire into Ukrainian territory," the statement said. "This is clearly NOT an exercise; these guns are being used to support separatist forces operating in the territory of Ukraine."
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