Satellite images taken over the past two days show new road construction and a tactical bridge being built across a key river in Belarus less than four miles from the Ukrainian border, amid what sources say is an ongoing buildup of Russian military forces encircling three sides of Ukraine .
Western intelligence and military officials are closely tracking the construction as part of the support infrastructure Russia is putting in place in advance of a potential invasion, three sources familiar with the matter told CNN.
Both the new road construction and the bridge, across the Pripyat River in southern Belarus, are less than four miles from the border and could be used by Russian forces currently in Belarus in a drive to Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. The satellite images, from Maxar and Planet Labs, show the appearance of the pontoon bridge virtually overnight on Tuesday.
Russia is building “bridges, field hospitals, all kinds of support infrastructure,” said one source familiar with the matter. “Which is why we aren’t really taking their claims of de-escalation seriously.”
It’s unclear whether Russian forces or Belarus are constructing the bridge. Belarus is Russia’s closest international ally in the standoff and is currently hosting Russian troops and equipment as part of what Russia insists are “exercises.” Western officials assess that those forces could be used to invade Ukraine from the north, in particular, if Russia chooses to march on Kyiv.
While no concentrations of armor have been seen near the bridge, Russian forces have deployed to forward positions some 80 miles to the east – and one convoy was seen on a road leading to the area.
According to western intelligence assessments, Russian President Vladimir Putin is positioned to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine at any time – although the US still does not believe he has made a decision yet.
Russia yesterday issued a number of conflicting signals, including announcing that some of its forces would be pulling back from the Ukrainian border. But officials have said publicly that there is no sign of de-escalation on the border and multiple sources familiar with up-to-date intelligence told CNN that Russia was still actively moving forces closer to the border on Wednesday. Some long-range artillery has been placed in firing positions, according to a senior western intelligence official and another source familiar with the matter.