Is Luhansk about to be annexed by Russia?

[quote float=”right”]the city is full of Russian soldiers[/quote]

In a series of Tweets today, German MP and member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Marieluise Beck described the Russian occupation in Luhansk as she saw it – and the ominous signs of its potential annexation.

Occupation & infrastructure

In the messages, Beck says that the city is “full of Russian soldiers,” and that an engineering brigade has already begun the reconstruction of infrastructure, including electrical lines, to Russia.

Columns of Russian armor and thousands of troops have been seen in the region in recent days.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has already called for discussions on the region’s “statehood” and Russian-installed officials have announced bilateral negotiations with Moscow  “at the highest level” over the supply of Russian gas to occupied territory via a Luhansk pipeline. Such negotiations bypassing Kyiv would confer de facto recognition of southern Luhansk as being independent from Ukraine.

“In Moscow we have discussed the issues concerning the heating season and gas. We have a separate pipeline and we were guaranteed to receive gas supplies. The pipeline comes into the Lugansk region and covers the Donetsk region. We are the only two regions that in general do not rely on Ukraine,” Leonid Baranov, the Donetsk Republic’s so-called “Minister of State Security” told Russian media.

Russian passports

Mirroring Crimea, Beck also confirms that Russian passports are already being handed out in the city, and that Russian soldiers are distributing to locals cash sums of Russian currency.

After the Russian-Georgian ceasefire, Russian-backed police in South Ossetia forced ethnic Georgians to accept Russian passports or leave, amounting to ethnic cleansing.

“Russian authorities have launched the full-scale issuing of Russian passports in Donetsk and Luhansk. It is being done to give Russia an excuse to bring in the Russian Army under the pretext of protecting Russian citizens,” said Yuriy Serhiyev, Ambassador of Ukraine to the United Nations yesterday.

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Ominous similarities

Since signing a ceasefire agreement with Georgia two weeks ago, the Russian military and its local allies have carved a substantial buffer zone around the tiny enclave. To consolidate its latest conquests, Moscow has shipped in what Georgian officials describe as “industrial batches” of passports.

“The Russians are telling everyone in the town they must take a Russian passport,” said Akhalgori shopowner Guram Chkhvidze. “One came to me and explained that if I did not take it, my safety could not be certain. I was scared, so I am leaving.”

The Telegraph, August 30, 2008

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Linguistic and religious Russification

Russification has also begun in the school system, with Beck also informing that lessons are already being conducted with Russian school textbooks; the curriculum change to that of the Russian Federation was verified by the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission. In Crimea, the Ukrainian language was summarily banned from schools by Russia.

“The Ukrainian church and the mosque in Luhansk have been closed. The Ukrainian-Orthodox priests had to flee,” read another tweet by the German MP observer.

Sectarian violence and religious persecution has been widespread during the conflict, with pro-Russian separatists considering Christian denominations such as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Roman Catholics, and Protestants, as anti-Russian and see them as obstacles in the path of the separatist goal of uniting the region with Russia.

Previously during the occupation and annexation of Crimea by Russian forces, Ukrainian Catholics were forced to flee the peninsula under threat of arrest and property seizures. “All my parishioners are patriotic Ukrainians who love their Crimean homeland. But Russia is now seeking to drive us out,” Father Milchakovskyi told the Catholic News Service in April. The Ukrainian Catholic Church was banned under the Moscow regime from 1946 to 1989, resulting in many clergymen arrested and Church property appropriated by the state and Russian Church.

New Russia or Novorossiya, Russia’s name for the occupied parcels of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, has already embedded in its constitution that it will act as a monolingual Russian state, with the Russian Orthodox Church and Russian Orthodoxy acting as the official state religion.

What next?

This story will develop in the coming days with a Tuesday press conference already scheduled by Russian-installed officials. The ongoing ceasefire may just be the calm needed to begin the process of solidifying Russian hegemony in the region, as occurred in Georgia. It remains to be see what form of annexation will take place: be it the formal annexation of Luhansk and neighboring Donetsk, facilitating their recognition as vassal states in the model of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, or unofficial recognition as Russia maintains with Transnistria.

Live on Twitter: Journalists confirm invasion has begun

Did long predicted invasion of mainland Ukraine “officially” just start? UK journalists Shaun Walker (Guardian) and Roland Oliphant (Telegraph) seem to think it has, seeing Armored Personnel Carriers with official Russian plates cross the border. Various other journalists documenting the situation have photographed columns of tanks and other heavy military vehicles heading in the direction of the border.

(last updated Aug 15, 10:45am EST)

 

“A column of armored vehicles (12 pieces) goes towards the Ukrainian border.”

This article will be updated as the situation progresses on Twitter.

"Ukraine, expect us": More Russian soldiers brag of invasion

Social media has proved an effective tool for outing controversial figures in Ukraine, with Euromaidan Press editors exposing Russian cossack mercenaries, selfie-taking border guards, and MH17 looters. More recently, online postings by Russian soldiers have shown Moscow’s implicit hand in shelling Ukraine with artillery and rockets from across the border. While US satellite images have proven these assertions, these first hand accounts convey malice and mentality that stills from sky cannot.

chug main
Mikhail Chugunov vk.com account

Meet Mikhail Chugunov, a Russian soldier deployed to the border town of Millerovo, Rostov Oblast as recently as July 13. In an artillery unit, Chugunov makes a habit of posing with Grad multiple-rocket launcher trucks. His recent photos include one of his convoy with the caption: “Grads to Ukraine…” Another shows an IL-76 transport plane captioned, “we have vehicles and drivers on the border.”

[Editor’s note: Excuse the crude Google translations in the screenshots]

 

"IL-76 is designed for transportation, we have vehicles and drivers on the border"
“IL-76 is designed for transportation, we have vehicles and drivers on the border”
"Grads to Ukraine"
“Grads to Ukraine”

 

Presumably on that very IL-76 is Sanya Zakharov, who posts “On the road to the Ukrainian border” on July 10, and then “we are waiting for loading onto the airplane” on the 11th. His current status is “on the border with Ukraine.”

Two of Chugunov’s unit comrades are Evgeny Bortsov and  Pasha Dyugurov, who post ominous replies to one of Mikhail’s photos of his Grad convoy: “Ukraine, expect us” says Dyugurov, “Ukraine is waiting for us artillery gunners! 🙂” exclaims Bortsov.

bort pasha

 

 

Written by Matthew Babiak is a political science graduate from the University of Toronto. Article and sourcing assistance by Dr. Vitalii Usenko, MD, MBA, expert of the Center of Military-Political Studies in the sphere of psychology of communications, Edmond Huet,  Euromaidan Press armament and military questions specialist, consultant to French TV and radio and Rafael Brzęczyszczykiewicz

U.S. State Dept: 'Confident' Russia sending tanks, number on-site doubled

The U.S. Department of State (DoS) has released a statement on its official blog, compelling Russia to engage in a peaceful resolution of the crisis in Ukraine and refrain from further assistance of agression. In the post, the State Department sees no evidence that Russia has waned in actively supporting the separatist factions, and compels the country to “stop destabilizing Ukraine and occupying Crimea, a part of Ukraine’s territory.”

[quote]We assess that Russia continues to provide them with heavy weapons, other military equipment and financing, and continues to allow militants to enter Ukraine freely. Russia denies this, just as it denied its forces were involved in Crimea — until after the fact.[/quote]

The statement goes further, expounding on and updating the situation in Rostov where previous reports by the Department and NATO exposed a buildup of main battle tanks and other heavy equipment being delivered to Russian militants in Ukraine.

Rostov

The DoS says it is ‘confident’ that the Russian government is mobilizing even more tanks from old stock to the Rostov deployment site, and that tanks, artillery, and multiple rocket launchers have already been delivered – several of which were transferred this past weekend alone.

It also says that the number of vehicles at the site is ever increasing (roughly doubling) and that more advanced air defense systems are beginning to arrive. This of course would mark a departure from the previously listed Soviet-era stock. Separatist recruitment efforts have also stepped up, and are now seeking out volunteer operators to man these very air defense systems.

Rostov deployment site imagery, May 30
Rostov deployment site imagery, May 30

Recruitment of militants to fight in Ukraine is ongoing opposite its border, with the DoS explicitly stating that “Russia has allowed officials from the “Donetsk People’s Republic” to establish a recruiting office in Moscow,” while pointing out that many separatist leaders “hail from Russia and have ties to the Russian government.”

[quote]This all paints a telling picture of Russia’s continued policy of destabilization in eastern Ukraine.[/quote]

Read the full article here

 

RNBO: Russian forces breach Luhansk border, eyewitnesses confirm

National Security and Defence Council (RNBO) spokesman Andriy Lysenko told reporters today that Russian military had entered 3km into Luhansk region, which he suspected was to establish a corridor into the region for mercenaries and equipment to pass. Troop movements were said to have traversed the village of Heyivka, in Stanytsia-Luhanska county, north of Luhansk city which remains occupied by Russian-backed militants. Lysenko’s account has not been independently verified at this time.

Map of eyewitness reports
Map of eyewitness reports

A public organization claiming to have eyewitness accounts verified to UNIAN the presence of troop movements elsewhere in Luhansk region, saying that a large column of personnel transports, armored vehicles and tanks flying Russian Federation flags and bearing the markings of the Russian armed forces passed through Sukhodilsk, dividing en route to Luhansk city in the north or to either Sverdlovsk or Izvaryne in the south – Ukrainian forces had recently retaken the Izvaryne border checkpoint.

Recall that yesterday a large number of Russian military vehicles were seen in Belgorod, mobilized with ‘peacekeeper’ insignia.

[hr]The cover photo used for this article was stock

Russian military near Kharkiv border bear "peacekeeper" markings

An armored column of Russian personnel carriers allegedly recorded near Belgorod were seen with blue ‘peacekeeper’ (MC) markings fixed to their rear. This story was affirmed by Mark MacKinnon, senior international correspondent for The Globe and Mail. Street signs in the video confirm the column to be near Razumnoye.

Throughout the day, multiple witness accounts of the symbol appearing on Russian military units in the region were also uploaded by separate users, strengthening the supporting evidence of the ‘peacekeeping’ convoy operating dangerously near Kharkiv.

There has been no official explanation for the units’ presence, but Russia has ratcheted up rhetoric and claims of Ukrainian forces shelling positions in Russia in recent days. Pretext for the invasion of Georgia in 2008 also included claims of Russian peacekeepers dying in Tskhinvali during the Georgian military response to the ongoing South Ossetian insurgency. A similar assault is precipitating in both Donetsk and Luhansk, where Russian-backed insurgents are concentrated and largely surrounded.

Below is a gallery of other Russian ‘peacekeeping’ units bearing the blue MC mark, principally during the occupation of Georgia / South Ossetia.