Much of this equipment is now missing, according to radar satellite images acquired on February 6. Cloud cover had prevented photographic imagery of the site for several days prior. The images show the tracks of the vehicles at the start.
Stephen Wood, senior director of satellite imagery company Maxar, told CNN: “It seems to me that a considerable number of vehicles [tanks, self-propelled artillery and other support vehicles] have left the northeast car park; additional armored vehicles have left the more central vehicle pool.”
Konrad Muzyka, a military movement tracking expert at Rochan Consulting, said what happened at Yelnya is one of many “significant changes in the composition of Russian forces and their locations”.
He told CNN: ‘We are entering the new stage of construction where we are seeing prepositioned units being staffed with additional personnel and that equipment is likely being moved to staging areas.
Social media videos shot in recent days show some of this equipment on trains and roads much further south in the Bryansk region near Ukraine. Armor and vehicles come identifiably from the same units that were prepositioned at Yelnya.
“There are now multiple indicators to suggest that troops have begun to deploy to forward camps to rejoin their pre-positioned equipment,” writes Thomas Bullock, an analyst at Janes. “A video posted on social media indicates that some troops from Siberia, whose equipment has already been moved to sites in Smolensk and Bryansk, are deploying.”
A US intelligence document dated December 3, 2021 included satellite images showing that the Yelnya site was empty in June – but in November was home to five battalion tactical groups, each containing around 1,000 soldiers and support elements. Much of the equipment belongs to the 41st Combined Arms Army, which is normally based in Russia’s Central Military District and has its headquarters in Novosibirsk in Siberia.
Muzyka says there are significant Russian movements elsewhere. “We are seeing a massive influx of vehicles and personnel into Kursk,” he tweeted on Sunday. Kursk is about 100 kilometers from the border with Ukraine.
Phillip Karber of the Potomac Foundation in Washington, who has also studied Russian troop movements in detail, told CNN: “Russia’s strongest offensive formation – the First Guards Tank Army, which is normally stationed in the area of Moscow – has moved 400 kilometers to the south. and is gathering in the optimal area for a quick armored offensive on the Khursk-Kiev invasion route.”
On Sunday, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told ABC News: “We believe there is a very definite possibility that Vladimir Putin will order an attack on Ukraine. It could take different forms. It could happen. tomorrow or it could take a few more weeks.”
Separately, US officials told CNN over the weekend that Russian President Vladimir Putin has now assembled 70% of the military personnel and weapons on Ukraine’s borders that he would need for a full-scale invasion of the country.
The Kremlin has repeatedly denied any plans for a military offensive against Ukraine.