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Russia-Ukraine Tensions Spark Warning from Biden

December 10, 2021

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What's happening?

A Russian military buildup near Ukraine could indicate a potential invasion, worrying political leaders in Ukraine and the West.

According to Ukraine, the buildup now amounts to 94,300 troops. Ukraine’s rebel-controlled east already contains over 2,000 Russian military personnel, and US intelligence officials recently estimated Russian troop deployment to reach 175,000. A similar buildup occurred earlier this spring but was pulled back in April. 

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Russian activity in Ukraine has been a concern since the Crimean Peninsula’s annexation in 2014, which was followed by a separatist insurgency that Western leaders accused Russia of backing. Skirmishes have persisted intermittently since 2014.

The buildup is likely a response to NATO’s expansion into Ukraine, which Russia views as an attempt to threaten Russian territory and regain rebel-held areas in Ukraine’s eastern regions. Russia has accused Ukraine of violating the 2015 peace deal following Crimea’s annexation. 

Russia has also reportedly been investing in misinformation campaigns to depict Ukraine as the conflict’s main aggressor.

What's the impact?

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov has warned that a “large-scale escalation” could occur by early 2022. 

According to Michael Kofman, a Research Program Director at the US Centre for Naval Analysis, an invasion could be significant: 

"I think Russia is in the best position since 2014 economically, politically, and militarily to execute such an operation, which is not to say it will happen, but simply to suggest that there are the fewest constraints relative to other periods when it has conducted offensive operations."

US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin met via video conference this week in part to discuss the military buildup. Biden warned of increased military aid in the region and strong economic measures in the event of a Ukrainian invasion. 

Foreign policy experts have predicted that Western economic sanctions could include blocking Russia from the SWIFT global banking system, currency conversions, and a new gas pipeline from Russia to Germany. These actions could have significant global economic consequences.

How can OSINT help?

Open-source intelligence provided ground-truth information following Crimea’s annexation and continues to support intelligence efforts amid recent escalations in the region. 

OSINT can help by providing photo and video evidence of Russian activities from the ground. This can include open-source imagery from satellites, as well as public social media content. Public news and social media also help intelligence teams analyze information campaigns, such as Russian media manipulation, surrounding the conflict.

For geopolitical applications like this, intelligence professionals must have access to relevant public information sources in Russia and Ukraine. This could include regional:

  • News sources specific to Russia and Ukraine
  • Social media sites like VKontakte
  • Forums and imageboards like Dvach

Specialized OSINT tools are required to make these sources quickly and easily available. Book some time with our team to learn more about relevant data sources in the region and how advanced OSINT tools can support geopolitical intelligence efforts.