Sunday, August 14, 2016
Russia Escalates War vs. Ukraine; Ukrainian Army on full Alert
“It has already started!” Ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko, permanent representative of Ukraine to the United Nations, tweeted anxiously last week.
Was Yelchenko forecasting Russia’s all-out invasion and potential victory over Ukraine and his country’s re-subjugation in Moscow’s heinous prison of nations?
It could happen if the free world, the USA, EU and NATO aren’t alert and attentive to Russia’s very real aggressive designs.
Two and a half years after invading Ukraine, Russia has launched a visible escalation of its war against Ukraine that has all the earmarks of threatening global peace and stability.
Ukrainian and non-Ukrainian news and eyewitness reports during the past week described an ominous build-up of Russian troops and mercenaries on Russia’s border with eastern Ukraine as well as intense militarization in occupied Crimea.
Here are a few of the headlines that I collected since August 8:
Russia May Be Preparing New Offensive in Ukraine
With Fresh Violence in Ukraine, is there Hope for a Solution?
Eyewitnesses Reported about Military Tanks Cordon around Dzhankoi – Dzhelyalov
Militants Keep Tanks, Rocket Launchers near Makiyivka and Donetsk – Ukraine Intel
Ukraine Troops near Crimea on Combat Alert as Tensions with Putin Escalate
Kremlin Deploys More Heavy Weaponry to Donbas Militants – Intel
Ukraine Warns Russian Invasion Possible ‘at any Minute’ after Moscow’s Soldiers seen near Border with Crimea
Ukraine Troops on High Alert amid Growing Tension with Russia
Fears Mount of Full-scale Ukraine-Russia Clash
Russia Claims Foiled Crimea ‘Terrorist Attacks’ by Kyiv
While the World is Distracted, Putin Escalates His War in Ukraine
Amassing Russian Troops along Border is not a Coincidence – Ukraine’s UN envoy
Fighting Intensifies as Putin Sends more Troops to Ukraine
Putin Accuses Ukraine of Plotting Terrorist Attacks in Crimea
Ukraine Reports Russian Military Activity on Crimea Border
Thanks to contemporary high-technology, this dangerous escalation is offered for worldwide consumption in real time compared with other similar earth-shattering events such as Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939 and the Soviet Union’s invasion of Czecho-Slovakia in 1968. Clearly, Russia has set the world on a course to a global conflagration as it resolutely rebuilds its empire and repairs the torn iron curtain.
Except for Ukraine’s anxious alarms about Russia tightening the noose around Kyiv’s neck, the international community’s reaction has been lukewarm to say the least. Indeed, the dog days of August are upon us and the 2016 Presidential Election Campaign is in its last 90 days but there must be a mid-level bureaucrat somewhere in Washington assigned to read the news and sound the clarion. On the other hand, Russian President Putin is determined to ignore, deceive and subvert whenever it suits his imperialistic goals, at home and abroad, by taking advantage of a distracted United States and Europe.
Vice President Joe Biden did his part by calling President Poroshenko on Friday, August 12, to discuss the rising tensions. According to the read out provided by his office, Biden “urged President Poroshenko to do his part to avoid escalating tensions.” The Vice President’s ludicrous caution does not get better after the second or third reading. Biden added that the US also “urged the Russian side to do the same.” Based on Putin’s track record of not abiding by warnings, sanctions and ceasefires, it is safe to say that he also won’t pay any attention to Biden’s words.
Secretary of State John Kerry State also expressed concern about the escalation during his remarks about the war in Syria. The State Department said he reiterated the US position on respecting the integrity of Ukraine’s territory and Crimea being a part of Ukraine. The US official equally called on Russia and Ukraine to avoid any actions that might aggravate the situation on the occupied border between Crimea and mainland Ukraine.
We’ve heard these admonitions before but it’s worthwhile to repeat them now, especially with Russia priming its weapons.
According to uatoday.tv, Department of State Press Office’s Director Elizabeth Trudeau suitably described the escalation as a “very tense and very dangerous situation.” She too called for the “avoidance of any actions that would escalate the situation there.”
“We continue to remain in close touch with international partners on this, but we believe now is the time to reduce the tensions, reduce the rhetoric, and get back to talks,” Trudeau urged.
And here is where the US official made a strikingly powerful statement on behalf of what Ukraine can do during war.
“We do understand that there is violence and we do recognize Ukraine’s right to defend itself and defend its own citizens,” she stated.
Recognizing Ukraine’s right to defend itself should open Kyiv’s eyes about what Washington would tolerate if Russia pushes it into a dead end as it is doing now.
NATO chimed in with its own warnings, calling “on Russia to work for calm and de-escalation. We are also deeply concerned by the recent upsurge in violence in eastern Ukraine, and the increase in ceasefire violations along the line of contact, primarily by the Russian-backed militants.”
The organization urged Ukraine and Russia to return to the pitifully ineffective negotiating table and work towards an elusive peaceful settlement of the war in Ukraine by diplomatic and peaceful means. The full implementation of the Minsk Agreements is key, the alliance emphasized, but, alas, Russia persistently violates the truce.
“As we restated at the Warsaw Summit, Allies stand united in their support for Ukraine`s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We call on Russia to reverse its illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea,” NATO said.
As many military strategists and x-captive nations’ leaders have noted, diplomatic niceties will not have any effect on Putin’s recalcitrance.
To be fair to NATO, earlier this summer its chief, Jens Stoltenberg, demanded that Russia withdraw its forces and military hardware from Ukraine.
“Russia needs to stop supporting the militants and withdraw its forces and military equipment from Ukrainian territory,” Stoltenberg said also without any effect. He said the alliance would continue to stand by the government in Kyiv and would never recognize Russia’s “illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea” two years ago.
Finally, the European Union High Representative Federica Mogherini offered on Friday, August 12, the Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Pavlo Klimkin similar words of support.
“The European Union condemns and does not recognize the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol by the Russian Federation. We continue to be unwavering in our support for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine,” she said in a statement.
The Institute for the Study of War, among others, fears Russia appears to be preparing for a new military offensive in Ukraine. Since August 5 there has been an ongoing Russian military build-up on the northern, eastern and southern Ukrainian border, allowing it “to threaten or conduct military operations into Ukraine from multiple directions, increasing Ukraine’s vulnerability to Russian or Russia-backed separatist forces,” the institute warned.
Col. Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for the Ukrainian armed forces, at press conferences last week said Ukraine anticipates an attack “any minute.”
“The occupiers are conducting maneuvers and we should understand that at any minute, at any hour, they could start a large-scale or small-scale attack,” he said.
Russia’s escalation follows claims early last week by its state security service – FSB – that it prevented two attempts by Ukrainian special forces to launch attacks in Russian-held Crimea. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko declared that Russia’s accusations were “insane.” US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt also belittled the Kremlin’s accusation. Putin declared he would take “further security measures” in Crimea, though a spokesman for Ukraine’s foreign ministry suggested that Putin really just “wants more war.”
Russia has often used claims of preventing regional terrorism and protecting its “near abroad” as pretexts for invading sovereign neighboring states.
The Russo-Ukraine War of 2014-16 is at its most intense level in a year, according to observers. The United Nations estimates that 73 civilians died because of the war in July, the highest monthly death toll for civilians since August 2015. More than 10,000 have been killed overall.
According to the UN, 57 percent of those civilian deaths came from heavy weapons banned from the front lines as part of the terms of the Minsk ceasefire. Another 38 percent came from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and unexploded ordnance.
In a statement on August 10, the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned “in the strongest terms” this latest Kremlin-made provocation and rejected all accusations of terrorism as completely groundless.
“Under a made up pretext, the Kremlin is undertaking another hybrid special operation with the aim to justify its future aggressive actions against Ukraine.
“Concentration of Russian weaponry, armaments and military forces in the temporarily occupied territories in Crimea and Donbas as well as along the Ukrainian-Russian border is a cause of particular concern. This situation signals an imminent threat to the peace and stability not only in Ukraine but also in the entire region. The occupying power does not limit itself to daily shellings in Donbas but also uses staged sabotage acts in Crimea in an attempt to shift responsibility for its own destructive actions on Ukraine and on our partners,” the ministry said.
The Ministry urged the international community to take all possible political and diplomatic steps to force Russia to cease and desist in launching a new round of aggression against Ukraine and the disruption of the Minsk peace process, which Russia has never upheld. It behooves the international community to treat seriously Ukraine’s insistence.
With military activity and rhetoric increasing to a dangerous level in the course of the week, President Poroshenko instructed on August 11 all military units near Russian-occupied Crimea and in the Donbas region that adjoins Russia to be at the highest level of combat readiness, reported CNN and the Associated Press.
Also on August 11, the spokesman for Ukraine's General Staff told Reuters that Ukraine had been holding scheduled military exercises in southern Ukraine. Oleh Slobodyan, spokesman for the Ukrainian border guards, assured friend and foe alike that “we can unequivocally say that Russian troops who were there since March are now being replaced with others. These troops are coming with more modern equipment and there are air assault units. In recent days, we see a strengthening of the units that are at the border. Their number increased.”
At the United Nations, Ambassador Yelchenko presented Ukraine’s case to a supportive Security Council, which once more strongly endorsed Ukraine's independence and territorial integrity including Crimea. At a press conference after the meeting, Yelchenko said Ukraine was satisfied with the position of the Security Council, though Russia, obviously, opposed it.
Yelchenko stated that he had asked Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin to provide the organization with evidence regarding Russia's accusations against Ukraine but said he could hear only his mumblings in reply.
Yelchenko also informed diplomats that Ukraine had sent an official request to the International Committee of the Red Cross, the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, as well as the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, urging them to gain access to Crimea, in particular, to those people who, as Russia claims, had been detained in connection with the so-called “terrorist activity.” Ukraine has requested those organizations to report the results of their communication with the detainees to the OSCE and the UN Security Council.
Ukraine’s representative said Russia is maintaining a 40,000-strong army on Ukrainian borders, which, he added, is not merely a coincidence.
Nearly 30 tanks were transported to eastern Ukraine over the past week, reported Ukrainian military sources. Russia deployed another convoy of military equipment, trucks and fueling vehicles to Ilovaisk (the enemy-held town in the Donetsk region), said Deputy Director of Main Intelligence Directorate at Ukraine’s Defense Ministry Vadym Skybytsky, according to the Ukrainian news outlet Novoe Vremya.
“Over the last week, about 30 tanks, 11 armored vehicles, six Grad multiple-rocket launch systems, and a large amount of ammunition were transported to eastern Ukraine. More trucks carrying food and military equipment for the Russian-backed occupation forces are expected to arrive on August 2,”said Skybytsky during his on-air interview with the Ukrainian TV channel 112.
As for Russian militarization of Crimea, Skybytsky reported on Hromadske Radio on August 2 that the Crimea could become an outpost from which Russia could wage nuclear strikes against Europe.
According Skybytsky, the Russian Black Sea Fleet annually trains on the use of nuclear weapons. He said they are currently carrying out intensive retrofitting of the fleet with new submarines, frigates, aircraft and other types of military equipment capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
“The Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu personally oversees the creation of the nuclear fortress in occupied Crimea,” Skybytsky said. “The transfer of Russia’s nuclear arsenal to the Crimea can cause an ecological disaster in the Black Sea basin as well as the entire European continent.”
Creating an ecological disaster also violates several environmental and sustainability accords that Russia signed in the recent past.
As for the situation in the Ukrainian peninsula, Ukraine’s Deputy Minister on Crimean Affairs, Georgiy Tuka, said the Russian government in Crimea has called for “military exercises, conducted on along the borderline of demarcation,” Ukrainian television channel 112 reported. Tuka said “in order not to put the civilian population in danger, the border crossings have been frozen.”
The Kherson region of Ukraine contains the country’s three official crossings into Crimea and the press secretary of the border service reported only one was functioning last week.
Eyewitnesses have reported large assortments of Russian military equipment located in the area of Armyansk and Dzhankoi, which is surrounded with military tanks and other equipment, Deputy Chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people Nariman Dzhelyalov posted on Facebook.
Vice-President of the Congress of the Crimean Tatars Lenur Islyamov reported that people heard gunshots and saw several helicopters on the administrative border. He believes that the military exercises are carried out at the border.
“The Kherson border guards spotted nine Russian Mi-8 helicopters and two drones moving above the temporarily occupied territory of Crimea, along the administrative border with mainland Ukraine,” Ukraine’s State Border Service stated. “The relevant units of armed forces were notified.”
Despite the precarious escalation, spokesman for the General Staff, Vladyslav Seleznyov, told Reuters late last week that Ukraine has the military resources to defend itself and is monitoring the situation around Crimea carefully.
While reading the news about the war last week, I saw that some reporters referred to it as the forgotten war. I disagree. It is not forgotten but rather it is disavowed, ignored and abandoned by many government leaders and pundits. The war in Ukraine has become an I-can’t-deal-with-this-conflict-anymore perhaps because one of the combatants, the perpetrator, is Russia, a country with an unstable leader with his finger on the nuclear trigger.
A worse conclusion would be if Putin overran Ukraine and threatened Poland and Eastern Europe while the free world panicked.
It has again come time for the free world to draw a line in the sand in eastern Ukraine and Crimea and forcefully tell Putin no more, no further and begin to push his army back to Russia. The free world must publicly call Russia Nazi Germany and Putin Hitler. The free world must increase sanctions against Russia to the breaking point, forbid all commerce with it and ban Russia and its citizens from all global events.There is no alternative. Otherwise, future generations will say – if they are permitted – that Ukraine and the other x-captive nations were lost on our watch.