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Kiev Says Russian Troops Crossing Border
| published February 21, 2015 |

By R. Alan Clanton
Thursday Review editor

Though the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin has consistently denied any direct or indirect involvement in the Ukrainian civil war, now in its eleventh month, military analysts from around the world have concluded that Russia has indeed been involved—through the use of weapons, materials, supplies, intelligence, as well as covert and not-so-covert on-the-ground operations inside the Ukraine.

Now, a recently-brokered ceasefire is in tatters, and Kiev is accusing both the pro-Russian militants, as well as Moscow for the collapse.

Kiev said this week that Russian troops and Russian tanks had again entered the Ukraine, this time crossing the border near the Sea of Azov. The tanks and troops, according to Ukrainian intelligence and military officials, are rushing west in order to support militant units now advancing rapidly across some parts of southeastern Ukraine. Ukrainian troops, outgunned and outnumbered in many areas, are in a slow, systematic retreat.

“In recent days, despite the Minsk agreement,” said Andriy Lysenko, a top Ukrainian army spokesman, “military equipment and ammunition have been sighted crossing from Russia into Ukraine.” The equipment and materials include dozens of tanks, rocket-launching systems, personnel carriers, and even buses ferrying more Russian troops into southeastern Ukraine.

Heavy fighting continues in many areas despite a complex and all-important truce brokered the leaders of Russia, Germany, France, the Ukraine and others. The ceasefire was to begin in earnest February 12, but pro-Russian militants in some areas rejected the terms of the ceasefire and used the truce as an opportunity to consolidate territorial gains, and to solidify control over several strategically-important locations—notably the city of Debaltvese, a communications center and a key hub for rail and road transportation.

Military officials in Kiev say that the Russian armor and troops appear to be poised to move into the city of Novoazovsk, on the Sea of Azov and only about 25 miles from Mariupol. If true, the Russian troops and supplies would supplement existing rebel positions. Only weeks ago, rebels laid siege to Mariupol with rocket and missile fire, destroying large areas in the eastern part of the city and killing some 35 civilians.

U.S. and NATO military analysts suggest that the Russian and rebel endgame may be control of a wide corridor connecting the Russian border with the Crimean peninsula. Russia annexed the Crimea last year not long after the Ukraine began to unravel along sectarian lines—pro-Kiev citizens in the west and pro-Moscow adherents in the east. Russia may be seeking to create a de facto zone of control along coastal areas in order to solidify its ability to reach Crimea by road and by rail.

Ukrainian military officials have consulted with NATO for confirmation of the new troop movements and the presence of additional Russian weapons, though officially neither NATO nor the Pentagon have confirmed if new Russian advances have taken place. But NATO commanders are concerned that if the militants gain access to more heavy weaponry, particularly rocket-launchers, tanks and artillery, it could continue to turn the tide of battle and the Ukrainian army will fall into a general retreat. The militants have launched scores of heavy attacks in the last week, and despite the ceasefire agreement, fighting has become even more intense and violent. Many civilians have fled the areas currently under siege, and thousands are moving west away from the fighting.

The civil war in the Ukraine began last year after a popular uprising deposed the pro-Russian president. Numerous attempts at a ceasefire have failed. The United States, the United Kingdom and dozens of other countries have imposed harsh economic sanctions on Russia for its interference and aggression in the Ukraine.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Pro-Russian Rebels Ignore Ceasefire; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; February 19, 2015.

Ukraine Violence Escalates; Thursday Review staff; Thursday Review; February 3, 2015.