Russia: BTR-80 convoy seen in Astrakhan with white markings
And Ukraine’s Foreign Minister has claimed Russia is planning to move nuclear weapons to Crimea, the peninsular which it annexed in 2014. The footage was uploaded to social media by an observer in Russia’s Astrakhan region, located 350 miles from the country’s western border with its neighbour.
The clip shows a column of BTR 80 armoured personnel carriers, each with a white cross painted across the top.
During the cold war, Russian soldiers would paint similar crosses on their tanks and other materiel in order to distinguish them from those of their opponents, who were also equipped with Soviet-made machinery.
Such an approach was used when the USSR invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968.
Russian tanks in Astrakhan with distinctive invasion stripes
The stripes are likely intended to intimidate Ukraine
While modern technology means it is no longer necessary from an identification point of view, Putin’s forces may be seeking to intimidate Ukraine.
Other pictures showed enormous, intimidating sculptures of Transformers-style robots in the pro-Russia city of Donetsk in a likely further attempt at intimidation.
Both countries held simultaneous military drills on Wednesday as NATO foreign and defence ministers launched a series of emergency discussions focusing on the escalating crisis.
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Russia tanks bearing invasion stripes in Czechoslovakia in 1968
Washington and NATO are concerned by the large build-up of Russian troops near Ukraine and in Crimea.
Russia insists the build-up is a three-week snap military drill to test combat readiness in response to what it calls threatening behaviour from NATO, claiming the exercise is due to wrap up within two weeks.
The Russian navy yesterday began drills in the Black Sea which rehearsed firing at surface and air targets, a day after NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called on Moscow to end its troop build-up.
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Transformers-style scupltures Donetsk have appeared in Donetsk
Ukraine has also staged military drills
Meanwhile in Ukraine, armed forces rehearsed repelling a tank and infantry attack near the border of Russian-annexed Crimea, while its defence minister, Andrii Taran, told the European Parliament Russia was planning to move store nuclear weapons in Crimea, warning: “The very presence of nuclear munitions in the peninsula may spark a whole array of complex political, legal and moral problems.
Mr Taran offered no evidence for his assertion but said Russia was massing 110,000 troops on Ukraine’s border in 56 battalion-sized tactical groups, citing his country’s latest intelligence.
Fighting has increased in recent weeks in eastern Ukraine, where government forces have battled Russian-backed separatists in a seven-year conflict that Kyiv says has killed 14,000 people.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who held talks in Brussels with Stoltenberg ahead of a video conference of all 30 NATO allies, said the alliance would “address Russia’s aggressive actions in and around Ukraine”.
Ukraine and Russia share a long border
Russia’s relations with the United States were dealt a major blow after US President Joe Biden said he thought Vladimir Putin was a “killer”.
In a phone call with Putin on Tuesday, Mr Biden floated the idea of a summit between the estranged leaders to tackle a raft of issues, including reducing tensions over Ukraine.
The Kremlin on Wednesday said it was too early to talk about such a summit in tangible terms and that holding such a meeting was contingent on Washington’s future behaviour, in what seemed to be a thinly veiled reference to potential U.S. sanctions.
Russia has frequently accused NATO of destabilising Europe by bolstering troop numbers in the Baltic countries and Poland – all members of the alliance – in the wake of Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.
Vladimir Putin, Russia’s President
NATO has denied a claim by Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu that the alliance was deploying 40,000 troops and 15,000 pieces of military equipment close to Russia’s borders, mainly in the Black Sea and the Baltic regions.
Separately, it was reported that the US has cancelled the deployment of two warships to the Black Sea, Turkish diplomatic sources said on Wednesday, amid concerns over a Russian military build-up on Ukraine’s borders.
Washington and NATO have been alarmed by the build-up near Ukraine and in Crimea, the peninsula that Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014. Last week, Turkey said Washington would send two warships to the Black Sea, in a decision Russia called an unfriendly provocation.
The US Embassy in Ankara had notified Turkey’s foreign ministry of the decision, the sources said, but did not provide a reason for the decision. US officials have not commented so far.