Russo-Ukraine War - 2014
Russian President Vladimir Putin called on separatists in east Ukraine on 07 May 2014 to postpone a referendum on secession for the mostly Russian-speaking region planned for 11 May and said Moscow had withdrawn troops from the border with Ukraine. In another reversal, Putin said that presidential elections in Ukraine, scheduled for May 25, would be "a move in the right direction." By potentially forestalling a dismemberment of Ukraine, Putin's comments appeared to open a way to easing the East-West standoff over Russia's role in the country's crisis.
But the Pentagon said it had not seen any signs of troop movements. NATO and Ukrainian officials say they, too, had seen no evidence of any withdrawal. And the next day Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine said they voted unanimously in favor of holding the referendum on independence as planned.
On 11 May 2014 voters in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, about 15 percent of the Ukrainian population, cast ballots on whether they approved of independence. But it was unclear whether that meant more autonomy within Ukraine, creation of an independent state or possibly an attempt by the Russian-speaking regions to join Russia. Recent polling showed 70 percent of locals opposed to secession. There is no minimum voter turnout required for the “people’s republics’” self-determination referendum, but local authorities claim that in Lugansk it has been over 79 %, while in Donetsk region it exceeded 71 %. According to first preliminary results, only 5 % of people said no answering to a question whether they “support the Act of state self-rule” of the Lugansk People's Republic respectively, the leader of local “people’s front” Aleksey Chmilenko said.
Carol Saivets, a Russian specialist for the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said the switch from reliance on local eastern Ukrainian men to a force with more Russians started in May 2014. It was almost certainly proceeding with the blessing and backing of the Kremlin, she said, "even if the Russians are indeed volunteers rather than serving military men."
After two months of unconventional warfare, Russia did not have much to show for its efforts, apart from a pair of narrow strips in Eastern Ukraine. On 24 May 2014 pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine announced the merger of their so-called "people's republics" of Donetsk and Luhansk into a new country, to be called "New Russia" ("Novorossia"). The separatists said they signed a contract to form the new country in the city of Donetsk. The document was signed at a heavily guarded ceremony at which only reporters from Russian state television were allowed. The provocative move came on the eve of Ukraine's May 25 presidential election.
Petro Poroshenko, who garnered 54.7 percent in the May 25 presidential vote, demanded that Ukrainian forces complete the special operation in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk by his inauguration on June 7. After claiming victory in the election, Poroshenko said the special operation in eastern Ukraine should continue and become more effective. The next day, Poroshenko said he was ready to sit down at the negotiating table with all people of the turbulent Donetsk and Luhansk regions, but added illegal armed forces must lay down their weapons.
What followed was a major escalation in fighting. On 26 May 2014 Donetsk was targeted by a special operation of pro-Kiev forces. It was the first time the Ukrainian side had unleashed its full force on the two-month pro-Russian rebellion. After a battle at the Donetsk airport, the self-defense forces retreated after having been bombed by Ukrainian aircraft. National Guard units of the Kiev government began moving towards the center of the city, but federalists blocked their path with vehicles, and shooting broke out. Over 50 members of local self-defense forces and nearly the same number of civilians were reprted killed in these clashes.
A large-scale military operation involving artillery weapons and combat aircraft was launched in Sloviansk and Kramators on 29 May 2014. Pro-Russian separatists on May 29 shot down a Ukrainian Mi-8 military helicopter in eastern Ukraine and 12 people on board, including a general, were killed. Relative calm returned to the streets of Donetsk on May 29 after the biggest battle of the pro-Russian separatist uprising in eastern Ukraine, a conflict transformed by the landslide election of a pro-European leader who vowed to crush the revolt.
Acting Defense Minister Mykhailo Koval said 30 May 2014 his forces had completely cleared separatists from the southern and western parts of the Donetsk region, as well as the northern part of the neighboring Luhansk region. He said the mission will continue until peace and order is restored. Russian President Vladimir Putin called on Ukraine's government to halt its military operation against pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Russian troops appeared to be withdrawing from the border area, but that the pullback is not complete. Russia was moving about two thirds of the troops it had close to the Ukrainian border. NATO said several thousand troops remained in the area.
All the bodies of federalists killed in the May 26 hostilities at the Donetsk airport were identified, and 33 of them were Russian nationals, the prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic said 29 May 2014. More than 30 bodies of Kremlin-backed combatant killed in Donetsk on May 26-27 would be laid to rest in Russia, with Moscow's involvement in the violence in eastern Ukraine was no longer in question. The open admission of the presence of foreign fighters marks a remarkable change of tune from the separatist leadership, which previously maintained that its forces were entirely made up of locals. The Russian state media agency ITAR-Tass published 20 stories under the Crisis in Ukraine rubric on its website during the day but did not once mention the dead Russian fighters. Kremlin officials, from Foreign Ministry spokesmen up to the president, released no statements about the losses. Their bodies were transported to the Russian border in a truck with red crosses and a painted sign "Cargo 200" — the Russian label for wartime casualties.
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