Sunday, April 17, 2016

And the War in Ukraine Goes On …
Despite sanctions, negotiations, pleas, anger, frustration, UN resolutions, congressional or parliamentary interventions, and killings, Russia’s war against Ukraine, which has claimed more than 10,000 lives and left in excess of 1.5 million people homeless in 25 months, continues.
In recent weeks, multistate institutions, governments and media have reported on Russia’s rapid and uninhibited escalation of its war, raising concern in Kyiv and other x-captive nations’ capitals that Moscow will continue its military campaign to keep Ukraine from immersing itself in Western establishments by restoring the iron curtain and its empire.
Last week, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said fighting between pro-Russian terrorists and Ukrainian troops increased sharply in eastern Ukraine in defiance of international calls to observe the latest installment of the Minsk truce agreement. Sadly, western observers concluded that the February 2015 Minsk ceasefire agreement has failed to completely halt the war.
“We have been registering with great concern the deterioration of the situation in the east for months now,” said Ertugrul Apakan, chief of the OSCE’s monitoring mission to Ukraine.
OSCE’s reports indicate that Russians are stepping up their attacks against Ukrainian positions on a daily basis and the frequency is staggering.
“Regrettably, the worsening security situation in the Donbas, precipitated by ceasefire violations from combined Russian-separatist forces, has constrained Ukraine’s capacity to move forward on the political aspects of Minsk implementation and Ukraine’s reform program. The United States expresses grave concern over the escalating cycle of violence that has taken hold in the Donbas and notes, once again, clear and incontrovertible evidence that military provocation remains the policy of combined Russian-separatist forces. No fewer than 37 outgoing grad rockets were launched out of separatist-controlled Donetsk city on April 8, in blatant disregard for the withdrawal lines and in violation of the September 1 ceasefire. As confidence in the ceasefire regime erodes, the tit-for-tat exchange of fire has grown into sustained combat in key hotspots, with over 2,800 ceasefire violations occurring on April 8 alone. The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) has recorded the highest-ever use of heavy weapons since the ceasefire began. Maintaining this intense level of fighting requires, as the SMM has previously noted, a ‘sophisticated supply chain’ to keep separatist forces well-stocked with weapons and ammunition,” said Ambassador Daniel B. Baer to the Permanent Council, Vienna reported that Avdiyivka, a town in Donbas under the control of Ukrainian forces, has recently experienced a major uptick in military action. Heavy battles have been going on here since April 2. Citing Ukrainian officials, the news outlet said the town and its surrounding area are currently the most dangerous location in the conflict zone.
The news outlet also said Russian terrorists located in Yasynuvate near Avdiyivka have shelled Ukrainian army positions 73 times in a 24-hour period, leaving four soldiers wounded. The Russian secessionists have broken ceasefire in this area almost 600 times in the course of one week earlier this month. Russian-backed troops are using tanks, machine guns, sniper rifles as well as heavy artillery, all of which are officially banned under the Minsk agreements.
Another OSCE report, delivered by Ambassador Baer, detailed that since the Permanent Council last met, “the level of violence in eastern Ukraine has only increased.” Baer added that the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine reported on average 600-800 violations per day, adding that “the situation on the ground can hardly be called a ceasefire.” Baer added that “these are not short bursts of gunfire but rather sustained combat lasting several hours, involving heavy machine guns, grenade launchers, mortars, and heavy artillery.”
“Combined Russian-separatist forces have not hesitated to make use of proscribed heavy weapons that should be far away from the contact line; this past weekend, they fired a volley of 20 grad rockets at Ukrainian government positions. On April 1, the SMM found a surface-to-air missile system on separatist-held territory contrary to the commitment in the Minsk agreements to withdraw all such weapons from that area.
The presence of such heavy weapons increases the risk of a rapid re-escalation of the conflict. While the fighting has largely been concentrated in several hotspots in Donetsk, there have been recent signs that the fighting could spread to Luhansk, as sustained ceasefire violations were reported on April 1,” Baer said.
Fortunately for Ukraine, Baer admitted that the Russia-backed separatists have not held up their end of the Minsk accords, which, he said, “were designed not merely to end the conflict, but to restore Ukraine’s governance over its sovereign territory.” He added that the decision taken by the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ in last month to issue passports “has no legal basis in either the Minsk agreements or international law.” These are significant conclusions for the international community to take to heart.
During another 24-hour period, Ukrainian positions in and around Luhansk and Donetsk were bombarded 87 times resulting in eight Ukrainian soldiers being wounded. Three servicemen were wounded as a result of shelling, and five others were wounded when their infantry fighting vehicle was blown up by a landmine, said Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko.
Russians have also seized a United Nations official in eastern Ukraine. The officer, named by the rebels as Yuriy Suprun, was seized on 8 April. The United Nations is calling for his “immediate and unconditional.”
The UN office in Ukraine, which is carrying out humanitarian operations in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, said it is deeply concerned that one of its staffer is a captive in Donetsk. The statement went on to say the UN has information the staff member is being “well treated.”  It did not supply any information on the circumstances surrounding the abduction including when or where it took place.
Russia’s Vladimir Putin is obviously pressing forward with his invasion of Ukraine without regard to Western opinions or international agreements that he’s signed. Free world leaders have access to all public and secret news about the Russian war in Ukraine but they are still hard pressed to do anything about this latest threat to regional and global peace and stability. Russia’s aggression against Ukraine continues without its restraint and this dangerous precedent will be detrimental for generations to come.
Vice President Joe Biden spoke on last Thursday with newly elected Prime Minister of Ukraine Volodymyr Hroysman, congratulated him on his election and expressed the Washington’s expectations of the new government.
At the same time, Biden emphasized that, in order to maintain international support for Ukraine, “the new team should move forward quickly on Ukraine’s reform program, including fulfilling its IMF commitments, as well as on Minsk implementation and the confirmation of a new, reformist Prosecutor General.” He reiterated unwavering US commitment to the prosperity, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Ukraine.
That statement is heartwarming, as have been all of Biden’s remarks to Ukraine, but it is not enough in this perilous time for Ukraine. Urging and threatening Kyiv to reform and eliminate corruption, as important as they are for Ukraine’s future, cannot be singled out when Russian troops and terrorists remain in Ukraine and continue to violate the truce dozens of times in one day.
If this wasn’t all that Ukraine had to contend with, news media also reported last week that the worse is still to come. Geopolitical expert George Friedman observed that while Putin’s military buildup isn’t yet ready to take any further action in Ukraine, he believes the buildup is continuing. Putin will, if he desires, be ready for stronger action against Ukraine by 2017, Friedman pointed out. Hopefully, that’s why the US is also building forces in the region of the x-captive nations.
This is not a time for so-called rational discussions with an irrational Putin about Russia’s war with Ukraine. He is the international outlaw and must be treated like one. In addition to strongly encouraging its allies in Europe to renew and intensify sanctions against Moscow in July until it withdraws from Ukraine, Washington must provide Ukraine with light and heavy defensive weapons as well as tactical and special-ops instructors to aid Ukraine’s valiant troops in successfully engaging Russian invaders.

This proactive policy will not only preserve Ukraine’s territorial integrity and save it – and the other x-captive nations – from returning to Russia’s rebuilt prison of nations but it will also save the free world from a Russian invasion.