New satellite images, released on Saturday, show that Russia has amassed forces in the annexed Crimea in recent days.
Israeli private intelligence firm ImageSat International (ISI) said some military vehicles – including tanks, armored personnel carriers and rocket launchers – seen outside the launch ground, “are likely to be preparing to move soon.”
Accumulation has occurred in Crimea over the past four days, according to ISI.
Pictures from February 15 show that the area near the town of Novosern is completely empty.
Pakistani intelligence said the build-up of forces in the area was to allow Russia to invade southern Ukraine.
The United States, which estimates that Russia has stationed more than 150,000 troops near the Ukrainian border, has noticed significant movements since Wednesday, a US defense official said, insisting on anonymity.
40 to 50% are in an offensive position. “They’ve loosened the tactical assembly in the last 48 hours,” the official told reporters.
Tactical assembly points are areas near the border where military units are established prior to an attack.
Moscow has amassed 125 tactical battalions near the Ukrainian border, the official said, compared to 60 in normal times and up from 80 at the beginning of February.
The Russians have never provided any figure regarding deployment along the border with Ukraine, nor the number of participants in the ongoing exercises with neighboring Belarus.
Separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine ordered a full military mobilization on Saturday, while Western leaders issued increasingly dire warnings that a Russian invasion of its neighbor appeared imminent.
Speaking to Israeli television, Denis Pushlin, head of the pro-Russian separatist government in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, said it would seek Russia’s help if the situation escalated.
“It is very likely that Ukraine intends to initiate a military confrontation and to launch an offensive,” Pushlin told public broadcaster Kan.
“The ball is in Ukraine’s court, and we do not rule out that in certain circumstances, if civilians are killed, we will have to ask for Russia’s help,” he added.
The Ukrainian military said two of its soldiers were killed in gunfire by the rebels on Saturday.
By Saturday morning, separatists in Luhansk and Donetsk regions, which make up Ukraine’s industrial heartland known as Donbass, said thousands of residents of rebel-held areas had been evacuated to Russia.