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Putin’s Not So Secret War, Part One

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 26th 2014. ‘’Little green men’’ with no identifying marks occupied the parliament of Crimea and other important buildings in the peninsula. 1) Soon afterwards, Ukrainian military bases were surrounded by gunmen and forced to surrender in the coming weeks. The new illegal authorities scheduled a referendum on separation from Ukraine. In just one of many things wrong with this referendum, the question had no option to keep the status quo, it was either independence from Ukraine or become part of Russia. On March 16th the self-proclaimed Crimean election Spokesman Mikhail Malyshev said the final result was 96.77 percent to re-join Russia and 2.51 percent against. 2) A day later Putin officially recognized the ‘’Republic of Crimea’’ by decree and approved the admission of Crimea and Sevastopol as federal subjects of Russia. 3)

Invasion of Eastern Ukraine

Putin’s shameless action went without much opposition in the West. Some individuals directly involved in the separation of Crimea were sanctioned but Putin and his closest aides were spared. The West was trying to give Putin ‘’an off ramp’’ and a way ‘’to save face’’. In reality however, Western leaders were unwilling to suffer even minimal damage to their economies at home to help Ukraine, a theme that we will see throughout this conflict. Emboldened by the West’s weak reaction, the Russian leadership started to ferment unrest in the east of the country. The same Crimea scenario was repeated throughout cities in the west. Gunmen attacked government buildings, police stations and army bases.

On April 12th, masked men in army fatigues and bulletproof vests, armed with Kalashnikovs, seized the police station and district Security Service of Ukraine headquarters in Sloviansk, a city Donetsk province. 4) Still reeling from the revolution in February the Ukrainian army was unwilling to intervene, instead preferring to leave the situation to the police. In the next few weeks the same pattern was repeated in Donetsk and Luhansk. After taking over these cities the gunmen created the Donetsk People's Republic and later the Lugansk People's Republic. Fast forward a few months. It’s now August. Over 2000 people have lost their lives in Putin’s secret war and this is not including the 298 people killed in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17). 5) Russia is losing the war in Eastern Ukraine. The shipments of arms and ‘’volunteers’’ across the border are not sufficient to repel the Ukraine offensive. The rebel stronghold of Sloviansk fell in July and the two major cities in the occupied territories, Donetsk and Luhansk were now being surrounded.

Russia’s ‘’Aid Convoy’’ Draws Reporters to the Border

With the bleak situation on the Eastern front, you may think Putin would stop and reconsider his actions in Ukraine. After all, the Russian speaking part of the population didn’t ‘’rise up’’ against the ‘’fascists’’ in Kiev. The country failed to ‘’rapture in two’’ as was forecasted by many pro-Kremlin analysts. Instead, Putin doubled down. The Russian government announced an ‘’aid convoy’’ for East Ukraine. The project was largely a sham and a PR move by Moscow, many of trucks inspected by foreign journalists were ‘’almost empty’’. 6) We will later find out the reason for this.

But what this PR disaster managed to do was draw Western reporters to the border. And there, they could finally witness with their own eyes what Ukraine and foreign intelligence agencies have been saying for months: Russia is sending its regular army forces to fight in Ukraine. On August 14th Roland Oliphant of the Telegraph saw a column of vehicles including both armoured personal carriers and lorries crossing the border. 7) He counted at least 23 vehicles. The convoy camped out near the Ukrainian border waiting for sunset. It was not immediately clear to the reporter that the military convoy had crossed the border until he saw a substantial number of vehicles pass through a checkpoint manned by gunmen. On August 15th Ukraine said that it had destroyed a substantial amount of the convoy, although those claims couldn’t be independently verified. 8)

On August 17th, just as Ukrainian forces were gaining a foothold in the border town of Luhansk, a video of the leader of the self-proclaimed government in the Donetsk region surfaced online. 9) In the vid, Alexander Zakharchenko is seen giving a speech in front of the self-proclaimed parliament of the People’s Republic of Donetsk. He boasts that forces amounting 1,200 fighters,150 armored vehicles and 30 tanks crossed the border from Russia. Zakharchenko claimed that the fighters underwent training in Russia for the past few months. This is implausible theory as the rebels have been on the defensive for the last few months and thus it is very unlikely they would send any fighters aboard for ‘’training’’ during such a crucial time period. Zakharchenko also failed to explain where the troops got their tanks from.

Russia Openly Invades the City of Novoazovsk

On August 28th we finally got the undeniable proof of direct Russian invasion when two Russian tank columns captured the south-eastern city of Novoazovsk on the Azov sea. 10) The town was located over 30 kms from the front line in the Donetsk region and is right on the border with Russia. The only way the ‘’rebels’’ could’ve gotten there was if they teleported to the location. The open Russian invasion sparked a snap meeting of the UN Security Council. 11) The US delegation led by Despite the fierce rhetoric, the meeting went nowhere as Putin’s Russia is one of the five UN nations that holds veto power.

Ceasefire Signed, Future Uncertain

With Russia’s tanks now barrelling through its borders and an anaemic West that refused to provide lethal military aid, Ukraine was left no choice but to talk to the terrorists and sign a ceasefire agreement. 12) Here are some of the 12 points in the deal that was signed in the Belarusian capital Minsk.

- A “decentralisation of power” would grant “temporary special status” to the rebel-controlled eastern regions of Lugansk and Donetsk.

- The border between Ukraine and Russia will be controlled by OSCE observers, the text calls for the creation of a border “security zone”, a restricted area on both sides of the frontier

- The agreement calls for the exchange of war prisoners and amnesty for the warring factions

- Remove illegal military formations, military equipment, militants and mercenaries from the territory of Ukraine.

As can be expected, the Russian backed ‘’rebels’’ broke the truce in less then one day. 13) Russian artillery shelled Ukrainian positions on the outskirts of Mariupol. One woman died and four others were injured in the shelling. Panicked residents could be seen leaving Mariupol late at night after the terrorists tweeted that they will attack the city. The VICE News video ‘’Dispatch 78’’ shows some of the damage done during the night. 14) Despite the provocations by the ‘’rebels’’ Ukrainian forces have remained calm. In some good news for the war torn country, the Russia backed militants released 1,200 prisoners on September 8th. 15)

Stage Two Opens Up

This is just the first part of our series of articles on the Ukrainian Conflict. In part two, the Russians will up the stakes, launching an all-out offensive in February of 2015. But this is a story for another time.

image source 16)

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