Two other photographs released by NATO show self-propelled guns that are on Russian territory but pointed at Ukraine. “This is clearly not an exercise,” NATO said. “These guns are being used to support separatist forces operating in the territory of Ukraine.”
“For months, Russia has provided separatist fighters with heavy equipment in the form of tanks, armored vehicles, artillery and multiple rocket launchers,” NATO said. Even after the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine on July 17, an attack that killed all 298 aboard and appeared to have been carried out with a Russian antiaircraft missile, NATO said, “Air defense systems have also been provided to separatists.”
Russia is also supplying the separatists with arms from such locations, NATO said.
A third photo shows the Russian military buildup, including tanks and armored personnel carriers, near the Russian city of Rostov. NATO said there were multiple Russian military camps in the area and that some Russian forces were based within a few miles of Ukraine and could attack with little warning.
“This configuration is exactly how trained military professions would arrange their assets on the ground, indicating that these are not unskilled amateurs, but Russian soldiers,” NATO said in a captioned description of the photograph. “Russian artillery systems like these have recently shelled Ukrainian positions outside the city of Luhansk in conjunction with a separatist counteroffensive to attempt to break the Ukrainian siege of the city.”
Another dated Aug. 23 shows Russian self-propelled artillery units in firing positions near Krasnodon. Near the artillery units are logistical vehicles that NATO said were probably carrying ammunition.
One photograph, dated Aug. 21, shows a Russian military convoy with self-propelled artillery moving in the Krasnodon area inside Ukraine.
This is the first time that NATO has made public photographic evidence to corroborate its assertions that Russian military units have been firing artillery from inside Ukraine.
The photos were taken by DigitalGlobe, a commercial firm, and have not been altered, NATO said in a statement. Two of the photos were described in an article Wednesday in The New York Times, before they were publicly released.
A Ukrainian separatist commander asserted on Thursday that Russian soldiers inside Ukraine were merely volunteers who had joined the rebels while on leave. NATO said the photographs show organized Russian military units, equipped with artillery and other heavy equipment.
General Tak told reporters that “well over” 1,000 Russian soldiers were now operating in Ukraine and that the Russian military was actively involved in the fighting.
“The satellite images released today provide additional evidence that Russian combat soldiers, equipped with heavy weapons, are operating inside Ukraine’s sovereign territory,” he said in a statement.
“Over the past two weeks we have noted a significant escalation in both the level and sophistication of Russia’s military interference in Ukraine,” said Brig. Gen. Nico Tak of the Netherlands, a senior officer in NATO’s military command.
WASHINGTON — NATO released photographs on Thursday that it said shows Russian artillery units operating in Ukraine, and asserted that more than 1,000 Russian soldiers had now joined the separatists fighting there against the Ukrainian armed forces.