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Satellite Imagery Shows Russian Troop Buildup Near Ukraine

Apparently fed up with Russian claims that the country's military forces have scaled back their presence along Ukraine's border, NATO officers decided to carry out some information warfare of their own on Thursday. In a briefing with reporters at the organization's headquarters in Belgium, NATO unveiled satellite imagery of what it said were Russian troop deployments on the Ukrainian frontier. 

The images make for sobering viewing. "This is a force that is very capable, at high readiness, and, as we have illustrated through the imagery, is close to routes and lines of communication," British Brigadier Gary Deakin told reporters. "It has the resources to be able to move quickly into Ukraine if it was ordered to do so," he added, saying that Russian forces could be on the move within 12 hours of a decision in Moscow to invade its neighbor.

Though Deakin probably didn't mean to come across as slightly intimidated by Russian military might, his remarks appeared to contain at least a small measure of anxiety.  "They have all the capabilities: air, special forces, artillery. They have everything."

This isn't the first time NATO has issued chilling warnings about Russia's military capabilities on Ukraine's border. In an interview with Foreign Policy last month, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned that Moscow may attempt a broader land grab in Ukraine. "Our concern is that Russia won't stop here," Rasmussen said. "There is a clear risk that Russia will go beyond Crimea and the next goal will be the eastern provinces of Ukraine."

Now NATO officers are going public with how the Russian military might do so. In a set of about two dozen slides, reproduced below, NATO presented a snapshot of what it said were the forces Russia has massed on Ukraine's border. Taken in late March and early April by the commercial satellite company DigitalGlobe (military satellite imagery would reportedly have taken too long to declassify), the images below purport to show Russian tanks, artillery, airplanes, and helicopters spread along Ukraine's border. Some of those forces are stationed no more than 25 miles from Ukrainian territory.

We begin our tour through Russia's military deployment in Belgorod, the western most star of the two northern stars on the map below.

Note Belgorod's proximity to Kharkiv, where pro-Russian activists have occupied government buildings.

"Mechanized" and "motorized" infantry refers to military units that can quickly transport members of the infantry from one place to another. Mechanized infantry units typically travel in vehicles that provide a measure of protection, such as armored personnel carriers. Motorized infantry typically travels in soft-skinned trucks. Below, Russian infantry units can be seen camped out in what appear to be fields near Belgorod.

The Mi-8 is a Russian transport helicopter, the rough American equivalent of which would be the Blackhawk. The Mi-24 is a helicopter gunship, similar to an American Apache helicopter.

Seen here are Russian tanks and infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs), which are armored troop carriers typically equipped with a cannon. The best-known American variant of the latter is the Bradley Fighting Vehicle.

More Russian transport vehicles, which here appear to be soft-skinned.

We now move to Russian deployments near Kuzminka and Novocherkassk, 28 and 31 miles from the Ukrainian border, respectively. 

Here, we can observe Russian mechanized forces Novocherkassk.

A motorized rifle regiment, elegantly lined up.

An anti-tank battalion part of the deployment near Novocherkassk. 

Artillery forces near Novocherkassk.

Moving now to Kuzminka, we have further views of Russian mechanized and motorized units.

Additional tanks and infantry fighting vehicles.

Additional views of tanks near Kuzminka.

We now move to aviation units and airborne troops stationed near Ukraine, specifically at Yeysk, a mere 12 miles from Ukrainian airspace.

An overview of the airbase at Yeysk.

The Su-33 Flanker is a high-speed fighter jet, the rough American equivalent of which would be an F-15. 

A Beriev A-50 early warning aircraft, which is used to detect hostile aircraft and units at long range and can function in a command and control capacity.

The build-up at Yeysk isn't limited to just airplanes.

Here, what is thought to be Russian special forces or airborne units.

Moscow has also deployed air units to the air base at Buturlinovka, some 90 miles from the Ukrainian border, which used to stand vacant.  

An overview of Buturlinovka.

Additional high-speed attack jets, capable of striking targets both in the air and on the ground.

The Su-24, a supersonic attack aircraft, can be seen to the far left, with their distinctive wings swept back. 

DigitalGlobe

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Now Venezuelans Are Taking Off Their Clothes to Protest

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro fancies himself something of a flower child. In an interview with the Guardian this week, the former bus driver and trade unionist denied accusations that he used excessive force to put down intense anti-government protests, leaving as many as 39 people dead. "We are all a little bit hippie, a little bohemian," Maduro told the British paper, explaining that he "listened to and lived through the life of John Lennon."

If that's really true, Maduro should be overjoyed at the latest trend to sweep Venezuela's protest movement: putting naked pictures of themselves up on Twitter. Posting under the hashtag #MejorDesnudosQue (#BetterNakedThan), Maduro opponents are using the phrase as a jumping off point for criticism of the government:

#BetterNakedThan...leaving my house without knowing whether I'll make it home safe and sound at night.

#BetterNakedThan...an accomplice. 

#BetterNakedThan...dressed in the blood of the innocent. 

 

The phenomenon has also made it from cyberspace onto the streets of Venezuela: 

The protest tactic was inspired by an incident late last week, when masked men stripped a young man of his clothing and beat him up after a confrontation with anti-government protesters at the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas:

According to BBC Mundo, the campaign originated with Ricardo Cie, an advertising executive who found himself outraged by the footage of the student being beaten. Eventually he got some friends to go along with the idea of posting nude photos in solidarity with the student, and by using a hashtag similar to one used by a CNN program, his protest movement quickly took off. "My wish was that people would be encouraged, but I really did not think, did not know if it would succeed," Cie told BBC. "It was a matter of faith."

The campaign isn't without its critics. The tweet below from a Maduro supporter and flagged by Al Jazeera reads #BetterNakedThan putting on one's pants and working for peace:

 

The two may not be mutually exclusive. On Wednesday, the Venezuelan government and a coalition of opposition groups agreed to sit down for public talks aimed at ending weeks of protests that have seen intense clashes between demonstrators and police. The opening salvo came when students at the University of the Andes in San Cristóbal gathered to protest an attempted rape on campus but have since metastasized into a wide-ranging indictment of the government's failures, from runaway inflation to chronic product shortages.

Perhaps this newfound hippie spirit -- on both sides of the barricades -- will mark an end to the protests.