Fact Check

Russia Has Amassed Troops to Surround the U.S. Borders

A fake news story from a conspiracy-flogging site reported that tens of thousands of Russian troops were poised along the borders of the U.S.

Published Sep 15, 2016

Tens of thousands of Russian troops are surrounding U.S. borders.

On 9 September 2016, the disreputable site YourNewsWire.com posted an article with the alarm-sounding headline, "Thousands of Russian Troops Surround US Border":

The Kremlin has confirmed that around 50,000 Russian troops are to be deployed to the the US borders in preparation for “asymmetric warfare”...

While these massive Federations military forces are being redeployed against the American northern border, this report continues, up to 1,500 Spetsnaz (special forces/commandos) have been ordered to immediately embark to the South American nation of Bolivia too—and as authorized under the military cooperation agreement signed by the Federation and Bolivia last week.

After scaring readers into believing that 50,000 Russian troops had suddenly materialized at the U.S. borders with Mexico and Canada, the article statec the troops in the north were actually in a region near Alaska but still within Russian territory, and the ones in the south were in Bolivia — a country that is roughly in the center of Latin America and not remotely close to the southern border of the U.S.

We could find no credible news agencies reporting that Russia had sent troops to Bolivia. A 9 September 2016 report from Cuba's state news agency Prensa Latina said that Russia and Bolivia were cooperating to bolster Bolivia's own military and the dealings would involve the "sale of equipment and transfer of technology," but it made no mention of hundreds of Russian troops landing in Bolivia.

The claimed acts of Russian military expansion were alleged to be in retaliation for a 7 September 2016 incident over the Black Sea in which a U.S. Navy jet (a P-8 Poseidon) had a close encounter with a Russian fighter jet (Sukhoi Su-27). Both sides claimed to be acting within international law and accused the other of wrong-doing. The Russians asserted the U.S. plane was operating without a transponder with the intent of espionage, while the Americans maintained they were conducting routine operations in international airspace when the Russian jets became dangerously aggressive.

The incident occurred amid high tensions between the U.S. and Russia vis-a-vis the Russian Federation's take-over of the Crimean peninsula, which had until 2014 had been under the administrative control of neighboring Ukraine. However, we found no credible evidence that Russia is going so far as to make a move so outlandishly war-baiting as to plant 50,000 troops at U.S. borders. By way of reference, there were 50,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan in May 2009 when fighting there was intense, according to the Associated Press.

On 1 September 2016, Business Insider reported that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said a division of troops would be stationed in Chukotka, Russia's most far-easterly region, which lies just over 50 miles from Alaska:

Broadly, Russia has taken the lead in militarizing and exploring the Arctic region, as melting ice caps open up new shipping lanes between the East and West. In that context, the deployment of a division to the sparsely populated Chukotka region makes sense.

In the past, Russia has bemoaned NATO and US troop deployments near to its borders. How the US will respond to this deployment remains to be seen.

For at least a year, the fact that the Russian military has been ticking up its presence in the region has been known but has not yet been cause for any particular alarm. But it seems unlikely Russia has 50,000 troops there, as the sparse region only has a civilian population of just over 50,000:

Russia has been openly re-establishing its military presence in the Arctic for some time now, and recent satellite imagery may give some insight into Moscow's intentions. Detailed images collected by Stratfor's partners at AllSource Analysis clearly show Russia's ongoing construction and development of several permanent bases in the region. Two in particular, one on Alexandra Island and the other on Kotelny Island, reflect the broader pattern in Russia's Arctic activity: Moscow is looking to establish a monitoring outpost and stake a symbolic territorial claim, but it has not yet built up a full-blown combat presence.

Russia Today (RT), a Russian state-funded, English language news outlet, has been boasting since 2014 about the country's Arctic plans as well, and on 15 September 2016 posted a fluff piece about soldiers rescuing an orphaned bear cub.

The YourNewsWire story was entirely sourced from the blogger known by the nom de plume "Sorcha Faal", whose WhatDoesItMean.com conspiracy site is described by RationalWiki as follows:

Sorcha Faal is the alleged author of an ongoing series of "reports" published at WhatDoesItMean.com, whose work is of such quality that even other conspiracy nutters don't think much of it.

Each report resembles a news story in its style but usually includes a sensational headline barely related to reality and quotes authoritative high-level Russian sources (such as the Russian Federal Security Service) to support its most outrageous claims. Except for the stuff attributed to unverifiable sources, the reports don't contain much original material. They are usually based on various news items from the mainstream media and/or whatever the clogosphere is currently hyperventilating about, with each item shoehorned into the conspiracy narrative the report is trying to establish.

Under the site's "Who is Sorcha Faal?" page, you'll find only strange, accusatory ramblings.


Adl-Tabatabai, Sean.   "Thousands of Russian Troops Surround US Border."   YourNewsWire.com.   10 September 2016.

Gibbons-Neff, Thomas.   "Russian fighter Makes ‘Unsafe Close Range Intercept’ with U.S. Anti-Submarine Aircraft."    The Washington Post.   7 September 2016.

Lockie, Alex.   "Russia Will Deploy a Division of Troops About 50 Miles from the US."   Business Insider.   1 September 2016.

Stratfor.   "Russia in the Arctic: A Different Kind of Military Presence."   11 November 2015.

RT.   "Russian Bases to Span Entire Arctic Border by End of 2014."     21 October 2014.

Faal, Sorcha.   "Thousands Of Russian Troops Rushed to US Northern Border and South America."     WhatDoesItMean.com.   9 September 2016.

Prensa Latina.   "Bolivia and Russia Sign Military Cooperation Agreement."

Dudarev, Alexey A.; Chupakhin, Valery S.; Odland, Jon Øyvind. "Health and society in Chukotka: An overview."   National Center for Biotechnology Information.   19 March 2013.

Associated Press.   "A Timeline of U.S. Troop Levels in Afghanistan Since 2001."     6 July 2016.

Bethania Palma is a journalist from the Los Angeles area who has been working in the news industry since 2006.