There has been a lot of contradictory information regarding Russia's alleged buildup against Ukraine. The US has claimed that Russia has massed at least 40,000 troops on the border with Eastern Ukraine. The US has produced satellite photos, which they say are of Russian military equipment.
The Russians admit that these photos show Russian units. The catch is that they say that these photos were taken back in August, when Russia and other CIS nations were participating in a massive military exercise in the area in question.
Spread across three phases, the exercise involves the participation of air defence units from Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.RT says Ukraine was involved. Airforce Technology does not mention Ukrainian involvement even though Yanukovych was still in power.
After starting with the master switching of troops to full combat readiness at the places of their deployment, the first phase is scheduled to conclude with re-deployment of servicemen and military hardware of air defence units to a testing range in Ashuluk in the Astrakhan region, southern Russia.
The re-deployment will be followed by an active phase of the exercise.
One reason to be skeptical of Breedlove's claim is that satellite photos were used erroneously to make the claim that Iraq was actively in possession of weapons of mass destruction. The notorious presentation by then-Secretary of State Colin Powell permanently damaged his reputation as someone who was simply motivated by the common good.
Another reason to be skeptical is that by treaty, Russia and their allies make regular flights over NATO territory to verify troop placement. Other observers make similar inspection flights over Russian territory to verify Russian troop placement. These observers have not made any such claims regarding any alleged Russian invasion. The Open Skies Treaty allows signatories to conduct inspection flights over territory on short notice to verify troop movements. We would find these claims more credible if they were made following an Open Skies Treaty inspection.
The third reason to be skeptical is that the narrative presented by Ukraine and the US is that Russia is clandestinely sneaking troops into East Ukraine to stir up trouble prior to invasion. OSCE found no evidence of this; there are no press releases to that effect by OSCE over the past 8 days. And a report today from the Russia-Ukraine border from Al-Jazeera finds normal activity besides the Ukrainian military digging in to repel a possible attack. This corroborates an earlier report from a few weeks ago by NBC News showing insufficient evidence of an invasion.
The fourth thing that does not pass the smell test is, if the US is so certain that a Russian invasion is imminent, then why have they not shared these plans with Ukraine?
However, the Russians still have a lot of explaining to do. The Guardian publishes the same photos that RT does. In the Guardian link, three of the photos show a date of March 22, 2014 and one shows a date of April 2nd. One is unidentified; the others are attributed to be from Buturlinovka Airbase, Primorko-Akhtarsk Airbase, and purported special forces at Yeysk. Two key questions must be answered -- can Russia prove that these photos were actually taken back in August as claimed? Or, in the alternative, can the US produce photos showing these areas were empty several months ago?
But even if it is verified that there is such a buildup, it does not follow that there will necessarily be an invasion. It is public knowledge that Ukraine has brought a lot of troops towards its eastern border. Given Russia's stated belief that Ukraine's new government has Neo-Nazis within its coalition, this move could have been done to repel a possible invasion given that they were once invaded by Nazis. Alternatively, these troops could be present as a show of force, to let Ukraine know that they are capable of striking in short notice.