NATO has expressed concern after a news report that Russia is building a large military base near its border with Ukraine.
Speaking to RFE/RL on September 10, a NATO spokesman said that, "Overall, NATO remains concerned about Russia's military buildup near Ukraine's borders and its continued attempts to destabilize Ukraine."
Reuters reported on September 9 that Moscow had started building a major military base in Belgorod Oblast, which abuts the Luhansk region of Ukraine that has been a hotspot of conflict between Ukrainian forces and separatists that NATO says are being trained and reinforced by Russian troops.
The report said workers were erecting a perimeter fence at the alleged site, near the town of Valuiki, less than 20 kilometers from Ukrainian territory.
Citing public documents, the news agency said the Defense Ministry is building the base on a 300-hectare site.
The facility is to house ammunition depots and barracks for 3,500 soldiers, as well as a recreation center with a skating rink and a swimming pool.
The ministry says it plans to use the base to train soldiers on artillery and army air defense, as well as in driving armored vehicles. The plan includes a site for studying the tactics of the U.S. military.
Alina Polyakova, an associate director at the Atlantic Council in Washington, said that while the report is thorough, it offers little new.
"The buildup of these kinds of bases along the Ukraine-Russian border has already been quite well documented. And so, this has been going since the beginning of the conflict, basically starting right after the annexation of Crimea," Polyakova told RFE/RL.
Russia covertly occupied then annexed heavily Russian-speaking Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014, and Western governments accuse it of participation in an armed separatism campaign in eastern Ukraine. Moscow has also periodically deployed increased numbers of troops to areas near the Ukrainian border throughout the 17-month-old conflict.
Polyakova added that "the way we know this [buildup] is happening is in a very basic way. You can look at Google Earth, for example, images before and after, and you can see that as before this area of western Russia was just empty fields, you know, one year later. So if you look at 2013, 2014, even for example not even going to 2015, we see a mass buildup of construction zones and military bases within Russia right on the border with Ukraine."
Russia denies directly sending soldiers to fight in eastern Ukraine, despite mounting evidence to the contrary.
Polyakova was one of the authors of an Atlantic Council report released in May titled Hiding In Plain Site: Putin's War in Ukraine, which documented alleged Russian military involvement in eastern Ukraine.
"We documented very clearly the buildup of bases and also how Russia has been using these bases as staging points for training soldiers and then deploying them at key moments during battles in eastern Ukraine," Polyakova said.
The European Union, United States, and other countries have slapped economic, visa, and other sanctions on Russia and some Russian and Crimean officials in an effort to punish Moscow for its policies in Ukraine.
But with little fear of more serious Western reprisals, Polyakova said, Russian President Vladimir Putin is being more brazen now.
"I think there's awareness in the Kremlin that they can keep pushing this line, almost essentially being out in the open about what they're doing in eastern Ukraine, and they're not going to face much pushback," Polyakova said.
Polyakova pointed to a Daily Beast report in June saying a drone in Ukraine had documented a Russian military base being built there.
“To my mind, the construction of a Russian military base in Ukrainian territory, the so-called separatist-controlled region, is much more shocking than the last report from Reuters."