Russian troops amassing heavy weaponry on Ukraine border

Russian troops and armored vehicles are once again amassing on the Ukrainian border, as evidence for makeshift Russian bases, cross border shelling and Russian aggression in Ukraine continues to grow.

Since Ukraine's pro-European reform movement called the Euromaidan toppled the pro-Russian government of ex-president Viktor Yanukovych last year, well equipped rebel fighters have consolidated control over Ukraine's southeast.

Russian president Vladimir Putin has denied that there are any Russian soldiers on duty in Ukraine, despite groups of them having been continuously captured or tracked while crossing the border. The powerful Russian state propaganda machine has dismissed evidence presented by Nato officials or Western governments as false.

However, yesterday Reuters reported that hundreds of tanks, mobile rocket launchers and other pieces of military kit have been gathered by troops on Russia's border, near a firing range in the Kuzminsky area, 30 miles from the territory of Ukraine.

The news comes as global thinktank the Atlantic Council launched a report, based on publically available information, demonstrating the sudden appearance of Russian soldier camps on the Ukrainian border, the movement of Russian armed kit into Ukraine and personal information of soldiers missing or dead as a result of the conflict.

The report, called Hiding in Plain Sight: Putin's War in Ukraine, is "definitive, nonpartisan evidence" for Russian military action in Ukraine according to one of its authors, ex-US ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst .

According to Herbst the point of their project is to demonstrate the presence of Russian troops and military kit through means that any reader can then fact check themselves.

"We believe that by using open sources and geolocating which anyone can access, the report demonstrates that there are substantial amounts of Russian troops in Ukraine," Herbst says.

"This is quite a simple fact, yet people have, for some reason, not assimilated it. Even if they do not necessarily watch Russian propaganda, many people still believe that in Ukraine, it is Ukrainians fighting Ukrainians, which is not true."

According to Herbst, evidence provided by US intelligence or Nato officials has been dismissed as partisan by pro-Russian outlets who are seeking to discredit it.

The Atlantic Council's report, however, uses completely unclassified information as evidence. For example, the report compares shots from Google Earth and Google Maps of chunks of rural land in Russia, only several hundred kilometres from the Ukrainian border which were completely undeveloped before the conflict began, but by the end of 2014, they appear to show a heavy build up of armed vehicles and training facilities.

Swathes of land near the Russian border towns of Kuybyshevo and Pavlovka appear as regular farmland in these satellite shots from 2013. However by summer 2014, after the Maidan protests in Kiev, both sites show a clear and intricate country road system, camp facilities and, in the case of Pavlovka, what appears to be an artillery firing position.

"For some reason when someone like Nato's Philip Breedlove has spoken about Russian troops in Ukraine, people have taken it as though he is speaking as a US representative," Herbst says.

"What we are saying is that you can locate this information too if you don't trust others' methods. You come to the same conclusion if you just follow the evidence in front of your eyes."

The report also includes profiles of Russian soldiers who have gone missing or are presumed dead as a result of the conflict.

In some instances author's of the report even use Russian media sources to demonstrate how public the evidence for Russian aggression in Ukraine is. One piece of analysis of Russian state media outlet Ruptly's images of artillery craters on the Ukrainian side of the border in Sverdlovsk show that as many as 209 were fired from the direction of the Russian side.

Herbst believes that the work done by him and his colleagues can have a genuine impact on public opinion in a conflict which has often been obscured by powerful propaganda.

"We are going to unveil our findings in several languages, possibly including Russian. There is great interest in it from Poland and across eastern Europe," he says.

Although using different evidence the report was also launched alongside an English translation of a collection of similar evidence, compiled by Boris Nemtsov, the Russian opposition leader who was shot in Moscow in suspicious circumstances in February.

Nemtsov's own report was finished by colleagues and published in Russian earlier this month in an event hosted by his friend an ally Ilya Yashin. Findings were uploaded online but were also made available to order in the form of a booklet.

Newsweek Europe can confirm that throughout the first day of the report being online, access to it was poor until it was subsequently circulated as a PDF through encrypted channels. Yashin believed this was a deliberate effort to limit access to the report, although fellow Kremlin-critic Alexey Navalny said it was likely that the high amount of visitors overwhelmed the server.