Russo-Ukraine War - 2014
NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen opened a 25 June 2014 meeting of alliance foreign ministers by noting Russia's use of "ambiguous" warfare in Ukraine. Rasmussen said NATO has witnessed Russia using a "new, different type of warfare" against Ukraine and has seen "no signs" Russia is respecting its international commitments. He said NATO will discuss how to improve its understanding of "ambiguous threats and how we deal with them in the longer term."
Linguistic ambiguity has been a hallmark of the Ukrainian conflict from the beginning, when Russia coined the terms "little green men" and "polite people" to avoid admitting that the insignia-free forces entering and annexing Crimea were in fact Russian soldiers. Moscow attempted to put even more verbal distance between itself and the conflict in Ukraine, referring to native-born Russian separatists as "Ukrainian rebels" and "pro-Russian fighters" and at times insisting that the violence is a "civil war" between Ukrainian "fascists" and Russian-speaking civilians.
Alexander Golts, deputy editor of the online newspaper Yezhednevny Zhurnal, wrote 16 June 2014 that "Russian President Vladimir Putin can always claim that the separatists bought their tanks and multiple rocket launchers at the same shop around the corner where he claimed the "little green men" in Crimea had obtained their ultra-modern battle gear. This new type of low-intensity conflict, unlimited by the West, would enable Putin to turn back the clock and correct the undesirable consequences of what he termed "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century" — the collapse of the Soviet Union. After all, Moscow could easily wage a proxy war in many of the former Soviet republics.... the situation is decidedly worse if the West actually does possess the necessary evidence but lacks the will to make it public for the simple reason that Western leaders do not know what to do once they have incriminated the Kremlin in conducting secret operations against a neighboring state."
Preventing Ukraine from joining NATO is believed to be one of Russia’s main goals. And some experts say that could be a key element of a settlement, if Ukraine’s government were willing to pledge not to join the alliance. Experts say NATO members will be reluctant to accept Ukraine as long as it's in a "frozen conflict" with Russia because the alliance is required to defend any member against attack.
Ukraine plunged into a vortex of violence that by August 2014 did not appear to have any end in sight. The vicious circle that started with Molotov cocktails thrown at riot police had gone to ballistic missiles launched at cities. The Ukrainian turmoil started in November 2013, after President Viktor Yanukovich put on a hold on a key EU integration deal. Thousands of Ukrainians, outraged by what they saw as betrayal of their aspirations, responded with mass protests in Kiev.
Over the weeks the protests became increasingly violent, as right-wing radicals weighed in and the government attempted to tighten the screws. Eventually, Kiev turned into a scene of rioting, with protesters using Molotov Cocktails and guerrilla tactics to take over government offices. The violence spiraled out of control a day after Yanukovich submitted to virtually all the demands conveyed to him by parliamentary opposition leaders. Snipers started shooting at both the protesters and the police in Kiev, triggering a bloodbath and a collapse of the government. The identity of the snipers remains unknown. Yanukovich fled on 22 February 2014, and a new government formed the next day.
Ukraine and Russia had been locked in a tense standoff since late February 2014 when Russian forces moved into the Crimean Peninsula. Crimea, a predominantly ethnic Russian region that was transfered to Ukraine by Soviet leaders 60 years earlier, rejected the legitimacy of the new Western-backed government. On 27 February 2014, Russian troops [masked and without insignia] seized key buildings and proclaimed Crimea independent from Ukraine. After a referendum to rejoin Russia, Crimea was annexed from Ukraine on 21 March.
The new authorities in Kiev took steps such as an attempt to strip the Russian language of its official status in largely Russian-speaking eastern regions. A protest movement grew in response, only to be dismissed and retaliated against with the dispersion of rallies, arrests and kidnappings of protest leaders, and attacks on local politicians. Kiev pressure led to some protesters taking arms and storming local government offices much as their opponents had done months earlier.
In April, a pro-Russian insurgency erupted in Ukraine's east. In May 2014, the crisis in Ukraine turned kinetic, as fighting between Ukrainian security forces and pro-Russian separatists killed dozens. Kiev declared the militias terrorists and Russian mercenaries and launched a military crackdown in the defiant east. Armored infantry vehicles were sent to cities like Mariupol in a demonstration of force, while mortar shells started falling on militia-erected roadblocks.
Instead of a quick victory, the so-called ‘anti-terrorist operation’ stalled, with militias capturing police armories, some military depots and even the military hardware used against them. Kiev’s response was to deploy Su-24 bombers, Mig-29 fighters, Mi-24 helicopter gunships and other aircraft, since their military had unchallenged air superiority. Militias proved to have shoulder-launched SAMs in their arsenals, as well as a variety of other heavier weapons, including artillery rockets and tanks, provided by the Russian military.
Within a few months, a rebellion that began with assault rifles, hunting guns and old weapons had multiple rocket launchers, self-propelled howitzers, armored vehicles and tanks. Frustrated by the armed resistance and hindered by the poor morale of their own troops, the Ukrainian government upped the violence ante. T-64BM Bulat battle tanks and heavy artillery pieces like 152 mm howitzers Msta and 152 mm field guns Giatsint-B joined APCs and mortars in the battlefield, laying waste to militia strongholds like Slavyansk. Among the heavy weapons the Ukrainian army used were BM-21 Grad and BM-27 Uragan multiple-rocket launchers.
The Ukraine conflict increased in speed and intensity. Russia was on the road towards annexing eastern Ukraine. Hundreds of Russian special forces troops - so called "Little Green Men" in uniforms without insignia - were at the core of the takeover of public buildings. In the case of Ukraine, national security and reclaiming Russia’s “greatness” is trumping economic concerns. Russia was prepared to accept a lot of pain, because Putin is not being driven by economics. But Putin hoped to avoid broad sectoral sanctions [against Gas, banking, etc] by a slow motion annexation, rather than through overt military intervention.
Dmitry Tymchuk of Information Resistance [a very well informed Ukrainian military analyst], wrote in April 2014 that "the Information Resistance group, strongly recommend to the Kremlin that they recount their soldiers, for example, at the 2nd Separate Spetznaz Brigade of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces, in Pskov oblast [region]. Since we are in the possession of rather bad information that not all of these soldiers are sitting at home in Russia.... in absence of the “little green men” from Russia, extremists have no chance to destabilize the situation. A handful of village idiots cannot impose their will on the rest of the community. The strength of current terrorist acts lies in the support of trained professionals from the Russian special forces. Without the Kremlin’s help, all efforts to plunge the [Donbas] region into the blaze of civil war are doomed to fail."
About a quarter of the EU’s gas supplies come from Russia, and EU trade with Russia amounted to almost $370 billion in 2012, compared with U.S.-Russia trade of $26 billion. For the United States, the issue is largely ideological – annexing Crimea has redrawn the map of Europe, setting a very dangerous precedent in violation of international law. But the Obama administration – while presenting a united front publically – wanted Europe to take the lead in punishing Putin. Both Europe and the US also hoped to avoid broad sectoral sanctions, and urged Kiev to avoid using force against the Little Green Men.
Moscow consitently denied any involvement in the East Ukraine insurgency. By the end of August 2014, Western sources reported that at least a thousand Russian troops were actively in the fighting in East Ukraine. Anti-goverment forces reported as many as four thousand Russians were present, but claimed they were "volunteers" rather than regular troops. There were reports that hundreds of Russian nationals had been killed in combat, with their bodies returned to Russia for burial.
Halya Coynash wrote 26 July 2014: "The shooting down of MH17 has led to harsh words used about both the Kremlin-backed militants in eastern Ukraine and those behind them, but left terminology largely intact.... the western media [are] still talking of ‘separatists’ and of a ‘civil war’ underway in Ukraine... The Kremlin and Russian media have assiduously pushed two different but related narratives. One is that Ukraine is in a state of civil war, the other that a ‘fascist regime in Kyiv’ is waging war against the people. The rhetoric has continued unabated... "
Said Ismagilov, Mufti of the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of Ukraine said "I can’t even understand what is happening. Who could tell me! Heavy military technology with Russian flags is passing through city streets, together with a large number of armed soldiers. There is constant military action. It’s very audible and visible, and people are dying. It’s pretty difficult to formulate or give any classification for what’s really happening. People say that it’s more like an undeclared war. Because huge amounts of military technology and armed men are getting through from a neighbouring state and they are engaging in armed conflict with Ukrainian military units. This is happening in full view of residents. What classification do you give it? Here military experts should give their assessment, maybe politicians, maybe human rights and international organizations. <> A serious war is underway using Grad rocket systems, tanks, mortar, grenade launchers, you name it”.
Julia Davis wrote "Russia’s President shamelessly asserted that there are no members of the Russian military operating in East Ukraine in any capacity. He made similar claims about Russia’s Anschluss of Crimea and later simply admitted that the opposite was true. In the same way, it’s indisputable that Russian citizens, current and former members of the RF military and the FSB, are leading the artificial “rebellion” in Eastern Ukraine."
The United Nations said in a report that more than 1,100 people had been killed and nearly 3,500 wounded between mid-April and July 26. At least 10,500 people have died since the beginning of the military operation, launched by Kiev in the southeast of Ukraine in mid-April, People’s Governor of Donbas Region Pavel Gubarev said on 01 August 2014. “We only have the approximate figures, but at least 2,000 people from our side have been killed during the conflict, 60 percent of them were civilians, others – from self-defense forces”. The governor estimated Ukrainian Army and National Guard losses at 8,000 people. On July 30, the head of the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers of Donbas said the Ukrainian Army had been lowering the death toll in the operation against the militia in eastern Ukraine by listing dead soldiers as defectors in order to avoid paying compensation to their families. Semen Semenchenko, the chief of the Donbas battalion, said earlier that up to eight Kiev-backed soldiers were lost daily in the operation in the country’s east. The Donbas militia said Kiev lost 1,600 soldiers over July 9-15.
By late August 2014 the Stavropol Committee of Soldiers' Mothers had compiled a list of 400 Russian troops who it said had recently been either killed or wounded. There had been a near complete blackout in coverage of the funerals by Russia's state-controlled media. A NATO official said on 28 August 2014 that there were more than 1,000 Russian soldiers now serving with separatists in Ukraine. The head of the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers, Valentina Melnikova, said the number was as high as 15,000. And Aleksandr Zakharchenko, leader of the self-proclaimed "Donetsk People's Republic," admitted that there were members of the Russian military serving with the rebels, though he said they had come during their "vacations." Although Russians had been largely supportive of pro-Russian separatists, in a survey conducted by the government-backed Public Opinion Foundation, just 5 percent of respondents said they would favor sending troops into Ukraine.
The conflicting sides reached a ceasefire agreement at a September 5 meeting in Minsk of the trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine, which comprises representatives from Ukraine, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Ukraine (OSCE) and Russia. The first Minsk agreement (‘Minsk-1’) was signed in the capital of Belarus on 5 September 2014. Echoing Poroshenko’s earlier peace plan, it called for the following measures: an OSCE-monitored ceasefire; an exchange of prisoners; the withdrawal of ‘armed formations, military equipment and fighters and mercenaries’ from Ukraine; the establishment of an OSCE-monitored ‘security zone’ along the border; and an economic reconstruction program for Donbas. A memorandum specifying the implementation of the ceasefire was adopted at another Contact Group meeting on September 19. However, both sides subsequently accused each other of violating the truce.
Poroshenko’s peace plan had envisioned that the abnormal situation in Donbas be rapidly brought back to normal. Minsk-1 provided that the existing abnormal situation be regulated and prolonged, albeit temporarily.’ Instead of being dissolved, the DNR and LNR would now be elements of a future political settlement. In line with Minsk-1, the Verkhovna Rada passed a temporary law on special status on 16 September. It gave the DNR and LNR rights to establish their own police forces, to appoint judges and prosecutors, and to pursue ‘language self-determination’.
As fighting raged, emergency negotiations, brokered by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President François Hollande of France, took place in Minsk. These produced a ‘package of measures for the implementation of the Minsk agreements’ (‘Minsk-2’). This document, signed on 12 February 2015 by representatives from the OSCE, Russia, Ukraine, the DNR and LNR, has been the framework for subsequent attempts to end the war. Although signed by Russia’s ambassador to Ukraine, Mikhail Zurabov, the agreement does not mention Russia – an omission that Russia used to shirk responsibility for implementation and maintain the fiction that it is a disinterested arbiter.
In September 2014, Ukraine requested lethal aid from the United States. The list of weapons and military hardware allegedly requested by Kiev was reported to include 2,000 SCAR assault rifles, 720 MGL-140 grenade launchers, nearly 200 mortars and 420 TOW-II anti-tank missiles. Also reportedly requested were 8 AN/TPQ-36, 4 AN/TPQ-37, 24 AN/TPQ-49, and 5 AN/TPS-53 [EQ-36] counter battery radars. Following the request, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a bill to allocate $350 million of military aid to Ukraine in 2015, including anti-tank weapons and unmanned aerial vehicles, and to grant it the status of "Major Non-NATO Ally." However, the bill was not adopted into law. The United States provided non-lethal military assistance to Ukraine, but said it had not made a decision as of late November 2014 on the possible supply of weapons to Ukraine.
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