The Kremlin’s calls for a ceasefire and calls by the pro-Russian militants in the Donbas for a mass mobilization are all designed to distract attention from Moscow’s preparations for a massive invasion of Ukraine sometime in the coming days, according to Russian military analyst Aleksandr Golts.
And that conclusion is strengthened, he suggests, by something else: Moscow is moving troops from other regions of the Russian Federation and even from troubled areas of Central Asia toward the Ukrainian border in order to have sufficient forces for a large-scale invasion.
“Games at mobilization” are being launched “in order to mask preparation for another broad-scale introduction of Russian forces
In a Yezhednevny Zhurnal commentary today, Golts says that even as Vladimir Putin’s press secretary declared that the Kremlin leader is “extremely concerned about the development of the situation in the Donbas,” TASS in the same news item reported that a Kremlin aide had said Moscow can understand why the militants are calling for a general mobilization.
“The leaders of the self-proclaimed republics understand” what Moscow is saying, Golts says. They too are for talks but “only if” they get to keep the territory they have seized, and since that doesn’t seem to be on the table, they will continue to fight – and with the support of Moscow as well.
Golts notes in passing that the militants are unlikely to be able to raise the 100,000 troops they have promised to bring to the colors within ten days. There simply aren’t enough people under their control to allow them to do so: If they did, they would be drafting a larger share of the population than even Stalin did during World War II.
That in turn means, the independent Russian military analyst says, that these “games at mobilization” are being launched “in order to mask preparation for another broad-scale introduction of Russian forces.” The militants and Moscow did much the same thing last summer, and thus it appears likely a new invasion is in the offing.
And confirming that conclusion is a report by Ekho Moskvy picking up Tajik media stories that “approximately 3,000 Russian soldiers from the 201st Russian military base in Tajikistan will be sent to the border with Ukraine.”
Their places will be taken by Tajik soldiers, a step that raises some serious security issues. Given the withdrawal of Western forces from Afghanistan, the threat of radical Islam to Central Asia is becoming ever greater. Pulling Russian troops out of the region now suggests just how important Moscow’s next moves in Ukraine must be in its calculations.
As Golts notes, “having [now] concentrated on the war in Ukraine, Russia risks losing Central Asia.” Indeed, he says, Moscow may soon face “a strategic nightmare” as a result. By sending troops from Central Asia to Ukraine, it may soon face the influx from Central Asia of “tens of thousands of refugees.”
A former Russian insider says he was there when Putin began openly planning the present invasion of Ukraine back in 2003.
At a conference in Brussels this week, Andrey Illarionov, a Russian economist and former economic advisor to Vladimir Putin informed that the invasion of Ukraine has been in official planning since at least 2003.
“Since 2003. I can say that certain questions relating to the future war with Ukraine were discussed in my presence. I didn’t think the talks would really lead to a real war,” he said.
In an anguished response to the Orange Revolution a year later which brought about an ostensibly pro-Western government, Russian officials then began discussing the potential for launching a military occupation of Crimea and it’s subsequent annexation. Illarionov also discussed leaked documents which detail the operation of Russia’s future war with Ukraine.
By 2009, he stated that plans to conjure and support separatism in Ukraine began to surface. It is now known that the terrorist organization known as the ‘Donetsk Republic’ began to reassert itself online in 2008 after then Russian-backed Viktor Yanukovych lost his position as Prime Minister. Created in 2005 also in the wake of the Orange Revolution, ‘Donetsk Republic’ members attended training camps in Russia funded by the Russian Presidential Administration, where instructors from the security services taught methods of espionage, sabotage and guerrilla tactics to attendees. Syncing with Illarionov’s statement, the group began organizing local terrorist training camps as early as 2009.
Putin’s July 2013 Speech
Illarionov did not mince words, making clear that this is a very much a “Russian-Ukrianian war” or rather, as he described: “Putin’s war against Ukraine.” A war he steadfastly describes as being long in the works that will continue to play out in the long term.
“So, they were preparing the war for a long time. The other matter is that it is a long war that has been continuing for more than 16 months. It was officially launched on July 27, 2013, by Putin’s speech in Kyiv on the occasion of the anniversary of the baptism of Kyivan Rus,” he said.
The speech cited by Illarionov was on the topic of Ukraine’s “civilizational choice” and “orthodox Slavic values.” In it, Putin bloviates on alleged “common spiritual values” which make Russians and Ukrainians a “single people,” calling for the preservation of ‘ancestral traditions.’ He also convincingly ignores centuries of persecution, telling listeners that subjugation (“union”) under Russia “changed the lives of Ukraine’s population and its elite for the better, as everyone knows.”
At another point, Putin speaks glowingly of Stalin’s reforms and investment in Ukraine during his first ‘Five Year Plan,’ a disastrous policy which resulted in the Moscow-orchestrated genocide of up to 7 million Ukrainians.
Current conflict zones’ historical hallmarks were focused on in the speech, specifically calling the Donbas “one of Russia’s main mining and metals industry regions,” and Odesa “one of the Russian Empire’s biggest seaports.” The next day Putin would attend Russian naval celebrations in the Ukrainian city of Sevastopol in Crimea.
All of this, of course, amounted to a cynical sales pitch for Russia’s unborn Eurasian Union and reunion with Russia, and to convince Ukrainians the perils of European integration. With a smile.
Let me say again that we will respect whatever choice our Ukrainian partners, friends and brothers make. The question is only one of how we go about agreeing on working together under absolutely equal, transparent and clear conditions.
Illarionov resigned from his position within the administration in 2005, has been an outspoken critic of president Vladimir Putin since that time.
Since becoming a dissident, his words to date have been prophetic. In October 2008 he quickly exposed that the Russian invasion and occupation of Georgia in August of that year was premeditated and instigated by the Russian government, when many still debated whether Georgia fired on Russian soldiers first.
In February of this year, prior to Russia’s “green men” swarming into Crimea, he fully predicted the occupation of the peninsula and similar destabilizing actions in the south and east. In March, after this had already come to fruition, he further predicted and warned of impending Russian forces seeping into eastern Ukraine during an interview on the Ukrainian network TSN. Russian Col. Igor Girkin, “Supreme Commander” of the Donetsk Republic, openly admitted recently to Russia’s involvement in the war and told how his special forces group entered Ukraine in April to seize government buildings.
Russian President Vladimir Putin says insurgent and terrorist groups in Ukraine’s east “will always get weapons,” including armored vehicles and artillery in response to questions of Russia’s material involvement the war against Ukraine. He reiterated this position on the German channel ARD prior to the G20 Summit in Australia, days after NATO officials confirmed reports that the Russian military’s invasion of Ukraine was continuing full speed despite an agreed upon ceasefire.
The Russian president also stated he would not allow Ukraine to win the war, calling for “dialog” instead: “This points to the fact, that you want the Ukrainian central authorities to annihilate everyone there, all of their political foes and opponents. Is that what you want? We certainly don’t. And we won’t let it happen.”
Justifying his potion, the paranoid dictator expressed concerns that Ukraine would begin the “ethnic cleansing” (presumably) of Russians, and that the pro-Western government would become a “neo-Nazi state.”
ARTEMIVSK, Ukraine – Bureaucratic stonewalling is hurting the morale of Ukraine’s fighting men and women by denying their rights, injured soldiers have charged. Some are even taking photos of their deployment to prove their involvement to disbelieving officials.
“The government does nothing for the volunteers,” said a soldier, 25, who was ill and on antibiotics. When his friend was shot and injured by a sniper he couldn’t get status as a casualty of anti-terrorist operations, which affects his ability to get benefits.
His brother, serving in the 95th Brigade, was advised to take photographs as proof of his war service. “The bureaucrats won’t help the men who are fighting,” he said.
Another problem is a lack of rotation. A man with a head wound said “the same people who are here for months get 20 days off and then have to return to the war. This is not fair. Others do not go to the war at all.”
The three, who refused to give names or be photographed for fear of punishment from the army, spoke to a Canadian journalist and his Ukrainian interpreter who were placed in their room recently at the regional hospital here while traveling with volunteers.
One of them had been injured that afternoon after the turret of a large gun on an armored vehicle swung unexpectedly and struck him, which he attributed to officer error; he bled from the ear and wears a bandage around his head.
This city of 78,000 is about 88 kilometres north of Donetsk, where fighting has raged over control of its airport, despite the Sept. 5th ceasefire. The United Nations Human Rights Office reports that at least 3,517 civilians and Ukrainian soldiers have died in the war since April. Since the ceasefire, 49 Ukrainian army servicemen have been reported killed and 242 wounded.
Normally, soldiers are not allowed to speak to the press unless officers are present.
The soldiers also said that some of their senior officers were selling information about their whereabouts to the enemy, but this could not be confirmed. They said many of their peers have died when shelled by separatists after their coordinates were sold.
One soldier said evidence of this is that on one occasion the men refused to stop as scheduled, and proceeded on. Later, the place they would have been was shelled.
The hospitalized soldiers also said the separatists have superior weapons to their own outdated guns, and this was mentioned in the report by the UN, its sixth about the war: “In a number of areas, Ukrainian armed forces reported being bombarded by the armed groups with advanced weaponry.”
The injured men described the tactics of the separatist rebels who, according to the report, are assisted by 3,000 to 4,000 Russian soldiers: “First they fire their artillery. Then they send tanks and foot soldiers. A new shell comes right down onto the trenches,” and sends shrapnel far and wide, injuring and killing, the head-wound man said.
One of the injured men said that since they lack winter clothing and other equipment, the Ukrainian army may have to shut down operations for the winter. He had to buy most of his own gear, such as body armor and helmet.
The third soldier said: “This is the bad side of the war. A journalist came to film the soldiers but the commander did all the talking. The soldiers did not have a chance to complain….And the media does not want to reveal this information.”
DEBALTSEVE, Ukraine — The familiar thump! thump! thump! of shelling a few kilometers away is suddenly broken by the staccato rat-a-tat-tat-tat! of automatic gunfire. We all stop, crouch a little, and look around.
“That is a new sound,” says Arkady Nesterenko, our TV/radio journalist companion from Belarus.
We all laugh. He’s right, the gunfire is a new sound, and a troubling one. It means our 700-kilometre journey from Kyiv to this area has taken us deeper toward the fighting most of us have only seen on TV or the internet.
The five of us — two volunteers bringing supplies to Ukrainian troops, two journalists and a journalist/interpreter — are just outside this town of Debaltseve in Donetsk oblast, near the border with the region of Luhansk. Dusk is descending like a comforting quilt, obscuring the nearby tank, concrete barriers, sandbagged bunker and armed Ukrainian soldiers as they check our papers on this rural road. We have been through this many times before. But the checkpoints now are closer together, the inspections tougher, to control the movement of people and materials.
Our driver and co-leader is Sergey Golub, a 45-year-old former staff sergeant in the Soviet army. Tall, lanky and likeable, he looks like a movie star and drives like Mario Andretti. Serious about helping the soldiers, he nevertheless likes a joke. After inviting me to drive the van for a while, he quips: “We have a saying in Ukraine: the driver pays for the gas.”
Sergey and his friend Valerii, who shares the driving and owns this 2010 Opel Vivaro CDTI van, are veterans of the EuroMaidan Revoluton in Kyiv last winter, when hundreds of thousands of people demanded democracy and rule of law in Ukraine and closer ties to the European Union. A man was shot and killed beside Sergey Feb. 20, when numerous protesters fell from gunfire, believed to be from either state security personnel or Russian snipers in high-rise apartments.
The demonstrations by all ages and sectors of Ukrainian society (they were started by students) prompted former president Viktor Yanukovych to flee to Russia, and Sergey was pleased. Like many here, he reviles the man for his corruption (padding his own pockets and those of friends and wasting public money) and for turning away from an association agreement with the European Union, seen as the lynchpin for progress in this debt-ridden state. Yanukovych was taking Ukraine closer into Moscow’s prickly embrace when the people said no.
Sergey and Valerii’s joy at his departure was short-lived, for the separatist unrest in this region began shortly after the president fled, and it soon became an armed conflict with the army. But the army here is not like Canada’s, where the government supplies most of the things a soldier needs. Here, the many volunteer battalions, and even to a degree the conscripted ones, must provide much of their own food, weapons, and clothing.
This is where Sergey, Valerii and hundreds of other brave people found a new raison d’etre: collecting, packaging and delivering tonnes of materials monthly for the soldiers at the front. These include vital medical supplies such as painkillers for local hospitals flush with the injured.
Some volunteers, like Sergey and Valerii, work on their own, establishing personal military and civilian contacts to keep the flow of supplies moving. This trip is their 14th journey east.
Others serve through established groups such as Narodnye Tyl (which roughly translated means “People’s Support”). Co-founders Roman Siuieyu and Georgi Tuka found space in Kyiv and set up an office and supply depot. It delivers three to four van or truck loads of clothing, army gear (such as five bullet-proof Kevlar helmets from a Ukrainian ex-pat in the U.S.) and medical supplies to the troops each week. About 30 volunteers serve here. Donations of money and materials come in from all over the world but mainly Europe and North America, and chiefly via Facebook. “I cannot imagine not doing this,” says Julia Goncharova, who manages the group’s medical donations and works 12-hour days. “The soldiers call us angels; they say they wouldn’t survive without us.”
Back at the checkpoint, Sergey makes his case to the soldier. “We are volunteers,” he tells the armed young man inspecting his papers as another round of thump! thump! thump! reverberates in the distance.
“Do you have any warm clothes?”
“Yes,” Sergey says, “we will get you some.”
He and Valerii go to the back of the van and dispense gloves, toques, socks – and a large warm coat. The soldier, who looks about 19, smiles in gratitude and soon three others mill about and inspect the precious winter attire. It is cold even now, in mid-October, near freezing.
The soldier says thanks, returns our papers and passports, and moves us along.
Valerii also sits up front, with little Arkady, 31, between them. He works for Belsat TV, which operates from Poland but is run by people from Belarus. In the back are myself, a Canadian freelance reporter, and my invaluable Ukrainian interpreter/fixer, Ievgenii Sinielnikov, 27, a businessman and former medical researcher and PhD student who studied in Finland before the EU cut his funding. Ievgenii got a big break there when asked to interview Finland’s foreign minister.
Valerii, a salesman and solid type who likes to smoke, cracks a joke and chuckles with the rest of them. It is too much for Ievgenii to translate every exchange, and I don’t ask for this one. Besides, the meaning is clear in any language: relief that we passed another barricade without incident and helped a few more men.
This scenario is often repeated. Only the faces change, and the circumstances.
Twenty minutes earlier we had come across a heavily damaged bridge over a railway. Somehow Sergey maneuvered the van across it, and I opened the side door and took two photos as we passed, not knowing there was a checkpoint ahead. The soldiers there were curt and suspicious, ordering us out of the van and giving Sergey a hard time over a multi-tool he carries. “It is a handy tool!” he says. “Look, we are volunteers, and these men are journalists. You can see the PRESS sign in our window.”
After some delay and hassle in the cold we are finally permitted to proceed. Valerii turns in his seat and looks at me over his left shoulder. “It is because you took pictures from the moving van,” he says.
“That is my job,” I reply. “That is why I am here.”
As darkness becomes complete, the high-beam lights of our red Opel reveal pothole after pothole. The van bounces and careers as Sergey speeds over the broken pavement. Sleep is impossible because of the rough ride.
“I know why the rebels are fighting,” I tell Ievgenii. “They want better roads.”
He smiles at the attempt at a joke. But it is only partly a joke. One of the separatists’ complaints is that the people in this region pay taxes but don’t see the benefits they desire. Bad roads, failing infrastructure, lack of other amenities – these are the things that hit home when people don’t feel part of a national fabric. When Ukraine became independent in 1991 it retained the centralized authority of the Soviet era in an effort to build a strong new state. But the cost has been dissatisfaction in some of the outlying regions, just as certain parts of Canada still complain about insufficient federal funding.
It doesn’t help that many of the people here have friends and family living across the border in nearby Russia. Propaganda from Russia says their lives would be better if they rejoined the motherland. Ukraine was once an important part of the Soviet Union, rich in coal and agricultural products, so the ties of culture, ethnicity, language and history are strong.
At 9:30 p.m. we roll into the city of Artemivsk, population 78,000. We are just north of the city of Donetsk, where fighting over control of the airport makes regular headlines.
Artemivsk is a beautiful old city, a cultural centre, I learn later on the internet. But now all I see are darkened streets, modest brick houses, bleak metal roofing glinting in the moon light. We don’t know where we will sleep, and Sergey has an idea. The hospital. It has beds and we will use five of them, in exchange for some medical supplies.
After a 30-minute wait in the regional hospital’s parking lot we are ushered inside. The four-storey building is decades old but warm. Ievgenii and I are placed in one room, with four Ukrainian soldiers, bandaged and forlorn looking. Our colleagues bunk elsewhere.
I grab the only bed with a multi-colored comforter and place my bags upon it as the soldiers, dressed in camouflage green garb, look on. Then Sergey walks in with three bottles of beer! I had joked earlier about needing a beer, as “Canadians like their beer,” I said, and Ukrainian brews are tasty and cheap.
Ievgenii declines his bottle and I pass it to the nearest soldier, who is blond and 25. He smiles as he opens it. His friends are on antibiotics and cannot drink at the moment, he says. Then he makes a toast as our bottles clink.
“To the war ending soon,” he says.
Mr. Bird is a Canadian journalist and former staff writer with the Winnipeg Free Press.
Filming from an ‘secret location,’ an RT journalist lent a hand in documenting further how Russian forces intentionally fire from residential areas in order to provoke Ukrainian forces with the intent of drawing return fire on the area.
In the segment, the correspondent tells viewers that they are preparing to fire Grad rockets at nearby Ukrainian soldiers, which a Russian soldier, described as an “anti-government fighter,” says always hits its targets. In the video, a house is seen in the background of what appears to be a village.
The camera then pans to show that they have started a large fire on the property of a small home adjacent to their set-up.
They then, realizing the damage they have caused and knowing this may warrant return-fire from the nearby Ukrainian forces, promptly flee the area.
We’re going to get out of here because now it is dangerous […] there is the fear that missiles will start coming in, so let’s get out of here.
‘Grad’ rocket launchers, which translates literally to “hail,” are a weapon which relies on scorching a given area rather than hitting specific targets. Ruling on quantity of strikes over quality, the volley of unguided rockets from a Grad have been described as a “definite psychological weapon.”
[quote style=”boxed”]”It will be much more difficult to resume negotiations. Such are the laws of war.”[/quote]
“Having interrupted the truce, President Petro Poroshenko made a dramatic mistake. This will lead to new victims, but now he will be personally responsible for them,” Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev publicly posted today on his Facebook page.