MOSCOW (NYTIMES) - A buildup of Russian forces near the border with Ukraine has raised concerns among Western and Ukrainian officials that the Kremlin might be preparing for significant military action, possibly an invasion.
A map compiled by The New York Times, shows troops, tanks and heavy artillery moving into positions that threaten to widen the conflict in Ukraine's east as well as potentially open a new front on Ukraine's northern border, closer to the capital, Kiev.
Russia currently has about 100,000 troops on the Ukraine border, according to Ukrainian and Western officials.
US intelligence agencies have assessed that the Kremlin has drawn up plans for a military operation involving up to 175,000 troops that could begin in the coming weeks.
Although it is not clear whether Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to launch an attack, analysts say the country is well on its way toward constructing the architecture needed for a significant military intervention in Ukraine.
On Monday (Jan 10), representatives from the United States and Russia will meet in Geneva for talks aimed at de-escalating the crisis.
Mr Putin has said Russia wants what he calls security guarantees, which would, among other things, bar the United States and Nato from expanding eastward into regions the Kremlin deems as within its sphere of influence.
Another Times map represents a snapshot of current Russian positions, as well as broad estimates of the number of troops and kinds of equipment deployed within striking distance of Ukraine. It is based on information obtained by Ukrainian and Western officials as well as independent military analysts and satellite imagery.
Much of the buildup so far, according to officials and military analysts, has involved troops and equipment that take time to deploy, including tanks and heavy armour, some of which have travelled by train from bases as far away as Siberia.
Before launching a significant military operation, however, Russia will probably need to deploy reserve soldiers and logistical infrastructure, such as field hospitals, that currently appear to be missing from positions near Ukraine, analysts say. These elements along with additional troops could be deployed rapidly should a decision be made to attack.
Much of the attention so far has been directed at the buildup of forces near two breakaway provinces in eastern Ukraine, Donetsk and Luhansk, where since 2014 the Ukrainian military has been at war with Russian-backed separatists.
The separatist forces, which include Russian troops and Ukrainian fighters opposed to Kiev's rule, amount to about 30,000, according to an assessment by the Ukrainian military.