Military situation in October 2014:
Areas held by the insurgents and Russia
Areas under the control of Ukraine
|Commanders and leaders|
A. Zakharchenko †
Forces in Crimea:|
Black Sea Fleet:
11,000 (including Marines)
30 + Warships
4 Squadrons of fighter aircraft
(18 planes each)
Reinforcements: 16,000 (March 2014)–42,000
4,000–5,000 (UK estimate, August 2014) 7,500 (Ukrainian estimate, November 2014) 12,000 (US estimate, November 2015) 9,000 (Ukrainian estimate, June 2015)
|Armed Forces: 232,000|
|Casualties and losses|
15,000 defected to Russia 300+ tanks
3,350 civilians killed|
13,000–13,200 killed; 29,000–31,000 wounded overall
The Russo-Ukrainian War (Ukrainian: російсько-українська війна, romanized: rosiisko-ukrainska viina; Russian: российско-украинская война, romanized: rossiysko-ukrainskaya voyna) is a protracted conflict between Russia and Ukraine that began in February 2014. The war has centered around the status of the Ukrainian regions of Crimea and Donbas.
Following the Euromaidan protests and the 22 February subsequent removal of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, and amidst wide unrest across southern and eastern Ukraine, Russian soldiers without insignias took control of strategic positions and infrastructure within the Ukrainian territory of Crimea. On 1 March 2014, the Federation Council of the Russian Federation unanimously adopted a resolution on petition of the President of Russia Vladimir Putin to use military force on territory of Ukraine. The resolution was adopted several days later after the start of the Russian military operation on "Returning of Crimea". Russia then annexed Crimea after a widely criticised referendum which was organized by Russia after the capturing of the Crimean Parliament by the Russian "little green men" and in which the population of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea voted to join the Russian Federation, according to Russian official results (it was reported about 95.5% of participating voters in Crimea (turnout was 83%) were in favour of seceding from Ukraine and joining Russia). In April, demonstrations by pro-Russian groups in the Donbas area of Ukraine escalated into a war between the Ukrainian government and the Russian-backed separatist forces of the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics. In August, Russian military vehicles crossed the border in several locations of Donetsk Oblast. The incursion by the Russian military was seen as responsible for the defeat of Ukrainian forces in early September.
In November 2014, the Ukrainian military reported intensive movement of troops and equipment from Russia into the separatist-controlled parts of eastern Ukraine. The Associated Press reported 80 unmarked military vehicles on the move in rebel-controlled areas. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Special Monitoring Mission observed convoys of heavy weapons and tanks in DPR-controlled territory without insignia. OSCE monitors further stated they observed vehicles transporting ammunition and soldiers' dead bodies crossing the Russian-Ukrainian border under the guise of humanitarian aid convoys. As of early August 2015, OSCE observed over 21 such vehicles marked with the Russian military code for soldiers killed in action. According to The Moscow Times, Russia has tried to intimidate and silence human rights workers discussing Russian soldiers' deaths in the conflict. OSCE repeatedly reported that its observers were denied access to the areas controlled by "combined Russian-separatist forces".
The majority of members of the international community and organizations such as Amnesty International have condemned Russia for its actions in post-revolutionary Ukraine, accusing it of breaking international law and violating Ukrainian sovereignty. Many countries implemented economic sanctions against Russia, Russian individuals or companies – to which Russia responded in kind.
In October 2015, The Washington Post reported that Russia has redeployed some of its elite units from Ukraine to Syria to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In December 2015, Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin admitted that Russian military intelligence officers were operating in Ukraine, insisting though that they were not the same as regular troops. Currently, 7% of Ukraine's territory is under occupation.
Despite being an independent country since 1991, as the former Soviet republic Ukraine has been perceived by Russia as being part of its sphere of influence. Iulian Chifu and his co-authors claim that in regard to Ukraine, Russia pursues a modernized version of the Brezhnev Doctrine on "limited sovereignty", which dictates that the sovereignty of Ukraine cannot be larger than that of the Warsaw Pact prior to the demise of the Soviet sphere of influence. This claim is based on statements of Russian leaders that possible integration of Ukraine into NATO would jeopardize Russia's national security.
Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, both Ukraine and Russia continued to retain very close ties for decades. At the same time, there were several sticking points, most importantly Ukraine's significant nuclear arsenal, which Ukraine agreed to abandon in the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances (December 1994) on the condition that Russia (and the other signatories) would issue an assurance against threats or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine. In 1999, Russia was one of signatories of Charter for European Security, where it "reaffirmed the inherent right of each and every participating State to be free to choose or change its security arrangements, including treaties of alliance, as they evolve"; both would prove worthless in 2014.
A second point was the division of the Black Sea Fleet. Ukraine agreed to lease a number of naval facilities including those in Sevastopol so that the Russian Black Sea fleet could continue to be based there together with Ukrainian naval forces. Starting in 1993, through the 1990s and 2000s, Ukraine and Russia engaged in several gas disputes. In 2001, Ukraine, along with Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Moldova, formed a group called GUAM Organization for Democracy and Economic Development, which was seen by Russia as a direct challenge to the CIS, the Russian-dominated trade group established after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russia was further irritated by the Orange Revolution of 2004, which saw the Ukrainian populist Viktor Yushchenko elected president instead of the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovich. Moreover, Ukraine continued to increase its cooperation with NATO, deploying the third-largest contingent of troops to Iraq in 2004, as well as dedicating peacekeepers to NATO missions such as the ISAF force in Afghanistan and KFOR in Kosovo.
A pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovich, was elected in 2010 and Russia felt that many ties with Ukraine could be repaired. Prior to this, Ukraine had not renewed the lease of naval facilities in Crimea, meaning that Russian troops would have to leave Crimea by 2017. However, Yanukovich signed a new lease and expanded allowable troop presence as well as allowing troops to train in the Kerch peninsula. Many in Ukraine viewed the extension as unconstitutional because Ukraine's constitution states that no permanent foreign troops shall be stationed in Ukraine after the Sevastopol treaty expired. Yulia Tymoshenko, the main opposition figure of Yanukovich, was jailed on charges that were called political persecution by international observers, leading to further dissatisfaction with the government. In November 2013, Viktor Yanukovich declined to sign an association agreement with the European Union, a treaty that had been in development for several years and one that Yanukovich had earlier approved of. Yanukovich instead favored closer ties with Russia.
In September 2013, Russia warned Ukraine that if it went ahead with a planned agreement on free trade with the EU, it would face financial catastrophe and possibly the collapse of the state. Sergey Glazyev, adviser to President Vladimir Putin, said that, "Ukrainian authorities make a huge mistake if they think that the Russian reaction will become neutral in a few years from now. This will not happen." Russia had already imposed import restrictions on certain Ukrainian products and Glazyev did not rule out further sanctions if the agreement was signed. Glazyev allowed for the possibility of separatist movements springing up in the Russian-speaking east and south of Ukraine. He insisted that, contrary to international law, if Ukraine signed the agreement, from a legal point of view, the Ukrainian government would violate the bilateral treaty on strategic partnership and friendship with Russia that delineates the countries' borders. Russia would no longer guarantee Ukraine's status as a state and could possibly intervene if pro-Russian regions of the country appealed directly to Russia.
Euromaidan and Anti-Maidan
Following months of protests as part of the Euromaidan movement, on 22 February 2014, protesters ousted the government of Viktor Yanukovych, who had been democratically elected in 2010. The protesters took control of government buildings in the capital city of Kyiv, along with the city itself. As the police abandoned their posts across the capital Kyiv and the opposition established control over key intersections and the parliament, President Yanukovych fled Kyiv for Kharkiv in the east of Ukraine, where he traditionally has had more support. After this incident, the Ukrainian parliament voted to restore the 2004 Constitution of Ukraine and remove Yanukovych from power. A vote on the resolution that stated that Yanukovych "is removing himself [from power] because he is not fulfilling his obligations" emerged 328–0 in support. The vote was 10 short of three-quarters of the Parliament members, the requirement of the Constitution of Ukraine for impeachment. Yanukovych stated that the vote was unconstitutional because of this issue,[c] and refused to resign. Leaders of Russian-speaking eastern regions of Ukraine declared continuing loyalty to Yanukovych.
One of the first issues the parliament approached was that of the language, annulling a bill that provided for Russian to be used as a second official government language in regions with large Russian-speaking populations. The parliament adopted a bill to repeal the 2012 law on minority languages, which protected the status of languages other than Ukrainian. The proposal alienated many in the Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine and a few days later, on 1 March, acting President Oleksandr Turchynov said that he refused to sign the bill, and he promised to veto (but did not make it), effectively stopping its enactment.
In the meantime, on the morning of 27 February, Berkut special police units from Crimea and other regions of Ukraine, which had been dissolved on 25 February, seized checkpoints on the Isthmus of Perekop and Chonhar peninsula. According to Ukrainian MP Hennadiy Moskal, former chief of the Crimean police, these Berkut had armoured personnel carriers, grenade launchers, assault rifles, machine guns, and other weapons. Since then, they have controlled all land traffic between Crimea and continental Ukraine.
Russian financing of militias ("Glazyev tapes")
In August 2016, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) published the first batch of telephone intercepts from 2014 of Sergey Glazyev (Russian presidential adviser), Konstantin Zatulin, and other people in which they discussed covert funding of pro-Russian activists in Eastern Ukraine, the occupation of administration buildings and other actions that in due course led to the armed conflict. Glazyev refused to deny the authenticity of the intercepts, while Zatulin confirmed they were real but "taken out of context". Further batches were presented as evidence during criminal proceedings against former president Yanukovych in Kyiv's Obolon court between 2017 and 2018.
Konstantin Zatulin: ... That's the main story. I want to say about other regions – we have financed Kharkiv, financed Odesa.
Sergey Glazyev: Look, the situation in the process. Kharkiv Regional State Administration has been already stormed, in Donetsk the Regional State Administration has been stormed. It is necessary to storm Regional State Administration and gather regional deputies there!
Sergey Glazyev: It is very important that people appeal to Putin. Mass appeals directly to him with a request to protect, an appeal to Russia, etc. This appeal has been already in your meeting.
Denis Yatsyuk: So we after storming building of Regional State Administration we gather a session of the Regional State Administration, right? We invite MPs and force them to vote? [...]— Sergey Glazyev et al., "English translation of audio evidence of the involvement of Putin's adviser Glazyev and other Russian politicians in the war in Ukraine", UAPosition.com
In further calls recorded in February and March 2014, Glazyev points out that the "peninsula doesn't have its own electricity, water, or gas" and a "quick and effective" solution would be expansion to the north. According to Ukrainian journalists, this indicates that the plans for military intervention in Donbas to form a Russia-controlled puppet state of Novorossiya to ensure supplies to annexed Crimea were discussed long before the conflict actually started in April. Some also pointed out the similarity of the planned Novorossiya territory to the previous ephemeric project of South-East Ukrainian Autonomous Republic proposed briefly in 2004 by pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine.
On 4 March 2014, Russian permanent representative to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin presented a photocopy of a letter signed by Victor Yanukovich on 1 March 2014 asking that Russian president Vladimir Putin use Russian armed forces to "restore the rule of law, peace, order, stability and protection of the population of Ukraine". Both houses of the Russian parliament voted on 1 March to give President Putin the right to use Russian troops in Crimea. On 24 June Vladimir Putin asked the Russian parliament to cancel the resolution on use of Russian forces in Ukraine. The next day the Federation Council voted to repeal its previous decision, making it illegal to use Russian organized military forces in Ukraine.
Russian bases in Crimea
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Beside the Black Sea Fleet, according to treaties between the Russian Federation and Ukraine such as the Kharkiv Pact among few in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea were located Russian Armed Forces in several localities throughout Crimean peninsula like Sevastopol, Kacha, Hvardiiske, Simferopol Raion, Sarych and several others. The dislocation of the Russian armed forces in Crimea was not disclosed clearly to public which led to several incidents like the 2005 conflict near Sarych cape lighthouse.[failed verification] The total number of Russian military component in Crimea was limited to a maximum of 25,000 troops, 132 armored combat vehicles and 24 pieces of artillery. Their activity on the peninsula was not unconstrained, however: the agreements required Russian forces in Crimea to respect the sovereignty of Ukraine, honor its legislation and not interfere in the internal affairs of the country. They were required to show their "military identification cards" when crossing the international border and their operations beyond designated deployment sites was permitted only after coordination with the competent agencies of Ukraine.
According to original treaty on division of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet signed in 1997, the Russian Federation was allowed to have its military bases in Crimea until 2017, after which it had to evacuate all its military units including its portion of the Black Sea Fleet out of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol. However Russia never really planned to move its fleet to Russia. On 21 April 2010 the former President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych signed a new deal known as the Kharkiv Pact extending the stay until 2042 with an option to renew and in return receiving some discount on gas delivered from the Russian Federation (see 2009 Russia–Ukraine gas dispute). The Kharkiv Pact was rather an update to complex of several fundamental treaties that were signed in 1990s between prime ministers of both countries Viktor Chernomyrdin (Russia) and Pavlo Lazarenko (Ukraine) and presidents Boris Yeltsin (Russia) and Leonid Kuchma (Ukraine). The Constitution of Ukraine, whilst having a general prohibition of a deployment of foreign bases on the country's soil, originally also had a transitional provision, which allowed the use of existing military bases on the territory of Ukraine for the temporary stationing of foreign military formations. This permitted Russian military to keep its basing in Crimea as an "existing military base". The constitutional provision on "[pre]-existing bases" was revoked in 2019, but by that time Russia had already annexed Crimea and withdrew from the basing treaties unilaterally.
The treaty about the Black Sea Fleet was also based on the 1997 Treaty about Friendship, Cooperation, and Partnership between Ukraine and the Russian Federation and the 1993 agreement about Free Trade. The 1997 Treaty about Friendship was based on the 1990 Treaty between the Ukrainian SSR and the Russian SFSR that was in its turn based on declarations about state sovereignty of both republics.
Days after Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich fled the capital of Kyiv in late February 2014, armed men opposed to the Euromaidan movement began to take control of the Crimean Peninsula. Checkpoints were established by unmarked Russian soldiers with green military-grade uniforms and equipment in the capital of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, Simferopol, and the independently administered port-city of Sevastopol, home to a Russian naval base under the Kharkiv Pact of 2010. The local population and the media referred to these men as "little green men". After the occupation of the Crimean parliament by these unmarked troops, believed to be Russian special forces, the Crimean leadership announced it would hold a referendum on secession from Ukraine. This heavily disputed referendum was followed by the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation in mid-March. Ukraine and most of the international community refused to recognize the referendum or the annexation. On 15 April, the Ukrainian parliament declared Crimea a territory temporarily occupied by Russia. Since annexing Crimea, the Russian government increased its military presence in the region, with Russian president Vladimir Putin saying a Russian military task force would be established there. In December 2014, Ukrainian Border Guard Service announced Russian troops began withdrawing from the areas of Kherson Oblast. Russian troops occupied parts of the Arabat Spit and the islands around the Syvash which are geographically parts of Crimea but are administratively part of Kherson Oblast. One of such villages occupied by Russian troops was Strilkove, Henichesk Raion, located on the Arabat Spit, which housed an important gas distribution centre. Russian forces stated they took over the gas distribution center to prevent terrorist attacks. Russian forces withdrew from southern Kherson and continued to occupy the gas distribution center outside Strilkove. The withdrawal from Kherson ended nearly 10 months of Russian occupation of the region. Ukraine's border guards stated the areas that were under Russian occupation will have to be checked for mines prior to them overtaking these positions.
In November, NATO stated that it believed Russia was deploying nuclear-capable weapons to Crimea.
Andrey Illarionov, former advisor of Vladimir Putin, said in a speech on 31 May 2014, that some technologies of Russo-Georgian War, were updated and again being exploited in Ukraine. According to him, since Russian military operation in Crimea began on 20 February 2014, Russian propaganda could not argue that the Russian aggression was the result of Euromaidan. The war in Ukraine did not happen "all of sudden", but was pre-planned and the preparations began as early as 2003. Illarionov later stated that one of the Russian plans envisaged war with Ukraine in 2015 after a presidential election, however Maidan accelerated the confrontation.
Renewed conflict in 2016
On 8 August 2016, Ukraine reported that Russia had increased its military presence along the Crimea demarcation line. Border crossings were then closed. On 10 August, Russia's FSB claimed it has prevented Ukrainian terrorist attacks and that two servicemen were killed in clashes in Armiansk (Crimea), adding that "several" Ukrainian and Russian citizens were detained. Russian media reported that one of the killed soldiers was a commander of the Russian GRU, and later was buried in Simferopol. Ukraine denied that the incident took place, and parallel to the incident on 9 August, a Ukrainian official claimed that a number of Russian soldiers had deserted but had not entered into Ukraine, and that skirmishes broke out between Russian intelligence officers and border guards. Russian President Putin accused Ukraine of turning to the "practice of terror". Ukrainian President Poroshenko called the Russian version of events "equally cynical and insane". The U.S. denied Russia's claims, with its ambassador to Ukraine (Geoffrey R. Pyatt) stating "The U.S. Government has seen nothing so far that corroborates Russian allegations of a "Crimea incursion".
2018 Kerch Strait incident
On 25 November, near the Russia-controlled Kerch Strait, Russian warships fired on and seized three Ukrainian boats; 24 Ukrainian sailors were detained. A day later on 26 November 2018, lawmakers in the Ukrainian parliament overwhelmingly backed the imposition of martial law along Ukraine's coastal regions and those bordering Russia in response to the firing upon and seizure of Ukrainian naval ships by Russia near the Crimean peninsula a day earlier. A total of 276 lawmakers in Kyiv passed the measure to take effect on 28 November 2018 and automatically expire after 30 days.[needs update]
The war in Donbas is an armed conflict in the Donbas region of Ukraine. From the beginning of March 2014, demonstrations by pro-Russian and anti-government groups took place in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of Ukraine, together commonly called the "Donbas", in the aftermath of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution and the Euromaidan movement. These demonstrations, which followed the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, and which were part of a wider group of concurrent pro-Russian protests across southern and eastern Ukraine, escalated into an armed conflict between the Russia-backed separatist forces of the self-declared Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics (DPR and LPR respectively), and the Ukrainian government. The SBU claimed key commanders of the rebel movement during the beginning of the conflict, including Igor Strelkov and Igor Bezler were Russian agents. The prime minister of Donetsk People's Republic from May to August 2014 was a Russian citizen Alexander Borodai. From August 2014 all top positions in Donetsk and Lugansk have been held by Ukrainian citizens. Russian volunteers are reported to make up from 15% to 80% of the combatants, with many claimed to be former military personnel. Recruitment for the Donbas insurgents was performed openly in Russian cities using private or voyenkomat facilities, as was confirmed by a number of Russian media.
In an interview with French television channel TF1 and Radio Europe1 in June 2014, Russian president Vladimir Putin said: "There are no armed forces, no 'Russian instructors' in Ukraine—and there never were any."
Economic and material circumstances in Donbas had generated neither necessary nor sufficient conditions for a locally rooted, internally driven armed conflict. The role of the Kremlin's military intervention was paramount for the commencement of hostilities.
In late March Russia continued the buildup of military forces near Ukraine reaching 30–40,000 troops total. Concerns were expressed that Russia may again be readying an incursion into Ukraine following its annexation of Crimea.
Ukrainian media have described the well-organised and well-armed pro-Russian militants as similar to those which occupied regions of Crimea during the Crimean crisis. The former deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Admiral Ihor Kabanenko, said that the militants are Russian military reconnaissance and sabotage units. Arsen Avakov stated that the militants in Krasnyi Lyman used Russian-made AK-100 series assault rifles fitted with grenade launchers, and that such weapons are only issued in the Russian Federation. "The Government of Ukraine is considering the facts of today as a manifestation of external aggression by Russia," said Avakov. Militants in Sloviansk arrived in military lorries without license plates. A reporter from Russia's Novaya Gazeta, having visited separatist artillery positions in Avdeyevka, wrote that in his opinion "it's impossible that the cannons are handled by volunteers" as they require a trained and experienced team, including observers and adjustment experts.
David Patrikarakos, a correspondent for the New Statesman said the following: "While at the other protests/occupations there were armed men and lots of ordinary people, here it almost universally armed and masked men in full military dress. Automatic weapons are everywhere. Clearly a professional military is here. There's the usual smattering of local militia with bats and sticks but also a military presence. Of that there is no doubt." Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former American National Security Advisor, said that the events in the Donbas were similar to events in Crimea, which led to its annexation by Russia, and noted that Russia acted similarly.
In April 2014, a US State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said, "there has been broad unity in the international community about the connection between Russia and some of the armed militants in eastern Ukraine". The Ukrainian government released photos of soldiers in eastern Ukraine, which the US State Department said showed that some of the fighters were Russian special forces. US Secretary of State John Kerry said the militants "were equipped with specialized Russian weapons and the same uniforms as those worn by the Russian forces that invaded Crimea." The US ambassador to the United Nations said the attacks in Sloviansk were "professional," "coordinated," and that there was 'nothing grass-roots seeming about it'. The British foreign secretary, William Hague, stated, "I don't think denials of Russian involvement have a shred of credibility, ... The forces involved are well armed, well trained, well equipped, well co-ordinated, behaving in exactly the same way as what turned out to be Russian forces behaved in Crimea." The commander of NATO operations in Europe, Philip M. Breedlove, assessed that soldiers appeared to be highly trained and not a spontaneously formed local militia, and that "what is happening in eastern Ukraine is a military operation that is well planned and organized and we assess that it is being carried out at the direction of Russia."
The New York Times journalists interviewed Sloviansk militants and found no clear link of Russian support: "There was no clear Russian link in the 12th Company's arsenal, but it was not possible to confirm the rebels' descriptions of the sources of their money and equipment." Commenting on the presence of the Vostok Battalion within insurgent ranks, Denis Pushilin, self-declared Chairman of the People's Soviet of the Donetsk People's Republic, said on 30 May, "It's simply that there were no volunteers [from Russia] before, and now they have begun to arrive – and not only from Russia."
A significant number of Russian citizens, many veterans or ultranationalists, are currently involved in the ongoing armed conflict, a fact acknowledged by separatist leaders. Carol Saivets, Russian specialist for the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, described the role of Russian soldiers as 'almost certainly' proceeding with the blessing and backing of the Russian state, "even if the Russians are indeed volunteers rather than serving military men".
A Russian opposition politician, Ilya Ponomarev, said "I am absolutely confident that in the eastern regions of Ukraine there are Russian troops in very small numbers. And it's not regular soldiers, but likely representatives of special forces and military intelligence." Later in July, after the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, he said that "Putin now understands that he has passed weapons to the wrong people". He also said that even if Moscow stopped the supply of weapons to the Donbas, there would still be enough supporters of the war in the Russian military to continue such shipments unofficially.
At a meeting held on 7 July, in the city of Donetsk, Russian politician Sergey Kurginyan held a press conference with representatives of the Donbas People's Militia, including Pavel Gubarev, and said that Russia did provide significant military support for the separatists. During a discussion among the participants, Gubarev complained that the arms that had been sent were old, and not fully functional. In response, Kurginyan listed specific items, including 12,000 automatic rifles, grenade launchers, 2S9 Nona self-propelled mortars, two BMPs, and three tanks, that he knew had been supplied to the separatists by Russia. He also said he saw new, fully functional weapons unloaded at locations in Donbas which he would not "disclose as we are filmed by cameras". Kurginyan admitted that Russia had initially sent "4th category weapons", but since 3 June had supplied equipment that was fully functional. He also said one of his goals whilst in Donetsk was to ensure that military support from Russia was increased.
An An-26 military cargo plane was shot down over the Ukrainian village of Davydo Myilske near the Russian border on 14 July. It had been flying at an altitude of 6,500 metres. The head of Ukraine's Security Service Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, stated on 15 July that the SBU had "indisputable" evidence of Russian involvement in the attack.
Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over the conflict zone on 17 July near Torez in Donetsk Oblast, over an area of Ukraine controlled by pro-Russia separatists. Evidence from open sources indicated that Buk missile launcher, that widely believed to have been used to shoot down the passenger flight, came from Russia, and was transported on 17 July from Donetsk to Snizhne. According to Bellingcat, the launcher was operated by Russian military of 53rd Anti-Aircraft Rocket Brigade.
In August, Russia sent dozens of white lorries, green army trucks painted white, into eastern Ukraine, without inspection by Ukraine. The trucks were "almost empty" the BBC's Steve Rosenberg reported, and the action was characterized as a diversion, a distraction, so that at other points equipment and personnel came into Ukraine.
On 17 August, Ukraine accused Russia of sending more military equipment, including Grad rocket launchers, across the border and on to Nizhny Nagolchyk. Sergei Lavrov continued to deny that Russia was sending any equipment across the border. He asserted that an OSCE observer mission placed at border crossing points in the region had not identified any unlawful crossings of the border but the OSCE mission that Lavrov mentioned had no mandate to check the long, unguarded sections of the border where crossings of men and equipment occurred frequently.
Ukrainian Defence Minister Valeriy Heletey said on 21 August that the militants were using Russian-made weapons that had never been used or bought by the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Injured pro-Russian fighters were usually treated in Russia, with help from the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations. They were also questioned and registered by the Federal Security Service (FSB), the Russian domestic security and intelligence agency.
Bellingcat has reported on the presence of Russian T-72B3 and T-90A tanks in the Donbas since 2014; the significance of this is that these tanks were not exported to or fielded by Ukraine. T-72B3 and T-90A tanks have reportedly been used near Ilovaisk, Luhansk airport and Debaltseve.
2014 cross-border artillery shelling
Russia shelled Ukrainian units from across the border since mid-July. On 11 July 2014, a Ukrainian camp in Zelenopillya village near Ukrainian-Russian border was shelled by modern Russian MLRS system 9K51M "Tornado-G", suffering heavy casualties.
On 24 July, the American government stated that it had evidence that the Russian military was firing on Ukrainian territory from across the border. A spokesman for the US Department of Defence stated that there was "no question" as to Russia's involvement in the attacks on Ukrainian Armed Forces. On 28 July, it published satellite photos showing heavy artillery shelling Ukrainian positions from Russian territory. On 27 July, U.S. officials confirmed Russia had shelled Ukrainian territory. At the time, Russian government spokesman denied these allegations.
The shelling escalated at least one week prior to the invasion. According to NATO reports, Russian military shelled Ukrainian positions across the border from mid-August, and by 22 August, Russian artillery and personnel had crossed the border into Ukraine itself.
August 2014 military invasion
On 13 August, members of the Russian Human Rights Commission stated that over 100 Russian soldiers had been killed in the fighting in Ukraine and inquired why they were there.
A convoy of military vehicles, including armoured personnel carriers, with official Russian military plates crossed into Ukraine near the militant-controlled Izvaryne border crossing on 14 August. The Ukrainian government later announced that they had destroyed most of the armoured column with artillery. Secretary General of NATO Anders Fogh Rasmussen said this incident was a "clear demonstration of continued Russian involvement in the destabilisation of eastern Ukraine". The same day, Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking to Russian ministers and Crimean parliamentarians on a visit to Crimea, undertook to do everything he could to end the conflict in Ukraine, saying Russia needed to build calmly and with dignity, not by confrontation and war which isolated it from the rest of the world. The comments came as international sanctions against Russia were being stepped up.
On 24 August 2014, President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko referred to the anti-terrorist operation (ATO) as Ukraine's "Patriotic War of 2014" and a war against "external aggression". The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine labeled the conflict an invasion on 27 August 2014.
On 26 August 2014, a mixed column composed of at least 3 T-72B1s and a lone T-72BM was identified on a video from Sverdlovsk, Ukraine by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. The sighting undermined Russia's attempts to maintain plausible deniability over the issue of supplying tanks and other arms to the separatists. Russia continuously claimed that any tanks operated by the separatists must have been captured from Ukraine's own army. The T-72BM is in service with the Russian Army in large numbers. This modernized T-72 is not known to have been exported to nor operated by any other country. Reuters found other tanks of this type near Horbatenko in October. In November, the United Kingdom's embassy in Ukraine also published an infographic demonstrating specific features of the T-72 tanks used by separatists not present in tanks held by Ukrainian army, addressing it to "help Russia recognize its own tanks". The equipment included for example Thales Optronics thermal vision instruments exported to Russia between 2007 and 2012 only.
On 27 August, two columns of Russian tanks entered Ukrainian territory in support of the pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk and engaged Ukrainian border forces, but US officials were reluctant to declare that Russia had begun invading Ukraine. NATO officials stated that over 1,000 Russian troops were operating inside Ukraine, but termed the incident an incursion rather than an invasion. The Russian government denied these claims. NATO published satellite photos which it said showed the presence of Russian troops within Ukrainian territory. The pro-Russian separatists admitted that Russian troops were fighting alongside them, stating that this was "no secret", but that the Russian troops were just soldiers who preferred to take their vacations fighting in Ukraine rather than "on the beach". The Prime Minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic stated that 3,000 to 4,000 Russian troops had fought in separatist ranks and that most of them had not returned to Russia, having continued to fight in Ukraine.
In late August, NATO released satellite images which it considered to be evidence of Russian operations inside Ukraine with sophisticated weaponry, and after the setbacks of Ukrainian forces by early September, it was evident Russia had sent soldiers and armour across the border and locals acknowledged the role of Putin and Russian soldiers in effecting a reversal of fortunes.
The 76th Guards Air Assault Division based in Pskov allegedly entered Ukrainian territory in August and engaged in a skirmish near Luhansk, suffering 80 dead. The Ukrainian Defence Ministry said that they had seized two of the unit's armoured vehicles near Luhansk city, and reported about another three tanks and two armoured vehicles of pro-Russian forces destroyed in other regions. The Russian government denied the skirmish took place.
On 18 August, the 76th Guards Air Assault Division was awarded with Order of Suvorov, one of Russia's highest awards, by Russian minister of defence Sergey Shoigu for the "successful completion of military missions" and "courage and heroism". Russian media highlighted that the medal is awarded exclusively for combat operations and reported that a large number of soldiers from this division had died in Ukraine just days before, but their burials were conducted in secret. Some Russian media, such as Pskovskaya Guberniya, reported that Russian paratroopers may have been killed in Ukraine. Journalists traveled to Pskov, the reported burial location of the troops, to investigate. Multiple reporters said they had been attacked or threatened there, and that the attackers erased several camera memory cards. Pskovskaya Guberniya revealed transcripts of phone conversations between Russian soldiers being treated in a Pskov hospital for wounds received while fighting in Ukraine. The soldiers reveal that they were sent to the war, but told by their officers that they were going on "an exercise".
A Bellingcat contributor published a series of investigations revealing the involvement of the Russian Northern Fleet Coastal troops units, 200th Motor Rifle Brigade and 61st Naval Infantry Brigade, which had participated in combats in Luhansk region: Troops of the 200th Motor Rifle Brigade fought in a battle of Luhansk Airport, and later in October in clashes for 32nd checkpoint. Marines of the 61st Naval Infantry Brigade were spotted in Luhansk and took part in fights in villages nearby.
On 24 August 2014, Amvrosiivka was occupied by Russian paratroopers, supported by 250 armoured vehicles and artillery pieces. Ten Russian paratroopers of the 331st Guards Airborne Regiment, military unit 71211 from Kostroma, were captured in Dzerkalne that day, a village near Amvrosiivka, 20 kilometres (12 mi) from the border, after their armoured vehicles were hit by Ukrainian artillery. On 25 August, the Security Service of Ukraine reported about the captured paratroopers, claiming they've crossed Ukrainian border in the night of 23 August. The SBU also released their photos and names. The next day, the Russian Ministry of Defence said that they had crossed the border "by accident". On 31 August, the Russian media reported that ten Russian paratroopers captured inside Ukraine had returned home following a troop exchange. The 64 Ukrainian troops provided in exchange were captured after entering Russia to escape the upsurge in fighting. Russia claimed that the Russian troops had mistakenly crossed an unmarked area of the border while on patrol. Ukraine released videos of captured Russian soldiers which challenged Russia's claim that it had nothing to do with the conflict.
On 29 August, after Ukrainian forces agreed to surrender Ilovaisk, they were bombarded by Russian forces while they evacuated through a "green corridor." The assault on the troops who were marked with white flags was variously described as a "massacre." At least 100 were killed.
According to Bellingcat, Russian military vehicles crossing the border of Ukraine and artillery positions close to the Ukrainian borders are clearly visible on satellite photos from 23 August 2014.
On 25 August, a column of Russian tanks and military vehicles was reported to have crossed into Ukraine in the southeast, near the town of Novoazovsk located on the Azov sea coast, and headed towards Ukrainian-held Mariupol, in an area that had not seen pro-Russian presence for weeks. The Bellingcat's investigation reveals some details of this operation. Russian forces captured the city of Novoazovsk. and Russian soldiers began arresting and deporting to unknown locations all Ukrainians who did not have an address registered within the town. Pro-Ukrainian anti-war protests took place in Mariupol which was threatened by Russian troops. The UN Security Council called an emergency meeting to discuss the situation.
On 3 September, a Sky News team filmed groups of troops near Novoazovsk wearing modern combat gear typical for Russian units and traveling in new military vehicles with number plates and other markings removed. Specialists consulted by the journalists identified parts of the equipment (uniform, rifles) as currently used by Russian ground forces and paratroopers.
On 3 September 2014, Ukrainian President Poroshenko said he had reached a "permanent ceasefire" agreement with Russian President Putin. Russia denied the ceasefire agreement took place, denying being party to the conflict at all, adding that "they only discussed how to settle the conflict". Poroshenko then backtracked from his previous statement about the agreement.
Also on 3 September, the OSCE for the first time reported "light and heavy calibre shootings from the east and south-east areas which are also bordering Ukraine". The report also stated that the OSCE Observer Teams had seen an increase of military-style dressed men crossing the border in both directions, including ones with LPR and Novorossiya symbols and flags, and wounded being transported back to Russia.
Lindsey Hilsum wrote in the Channel 4 news blog that in early September Ukrainian troops at Dmytrivka came under attack from BM-30 Smerch rockets from Russia. On 4 September, she wrote of rumours that Ukrainian troops who had been shelling Luhansk for weeks were retreating west and that Russian soldiers with heavy armour were reported to have come over the border to back up the rebels.
Journalist Tim Judah wrote in the NYR blog about the scale of the devastation suffered by Ukrainian forces in southeastern Ukraine over the last week of August 2014 that it amounted "to a catastrophic defeat and will long be remembered by embittered Ukrainians as among the darkest days of their history." The scale of the destruction achieved in several ambushes revealed "that those attacking the pro-government forces were highly professional and using very powerful weapons." The fighting in Ilovaysk had begun on 7 August when units from three Ukrainian volunteer militias and the police attempted to take it back from rebel control. Then, on 28 August, the rebels were able to launch a major offensive, with help from elsewhere, including Donetsk—though "not Russia," according to Commander Givi, the head of rebel forces there. By 1 September it was all over and the Ukrainians had been decisively defeated. Commander Givi said the ambushed forces were militias, not regular soldiers, whose numbers had been boosted, 'by foreigners, including Czechs, Hungarians, and "niggers." '
Mick Krever wrote on the CNN blog that on 5 September Russia's Permanent Representative to the OSCE, Andrey Kelin had said it was natural pro-Russian separatists "are going to liberate" Mariupol. Ukrainian forces stated that Russian intelligence groups had been spotted in the area. Kelin said 'there might be volunteers over there.' On 4 September 2014, NATO officer said there were several thousand regular Russian forces operating in Ukraine. Lindsey Hilsum reported on the Channel 4 news blog about the total destruction of Luhansk International Airport which was being used as a base by the Ukrainian forces to shell Luhansk, probably because the Russians decided to 'turn the tide' - the terminal building and everything around was utterly destroyed. Forces from Azerbaijan, Belarus and Tajikistan who were fighting on the side of the rebels allowed themselves to be filmed.
On 12 September 2014, The Guardian saw a Russian armoured personnel carrier in Lutuhyne. The next day, it was reported that Moscow had sent a convoy of trucks delivering "aid" into Ukraine without Kyiv's consent. This convoy was not inspected by Ukraine or accompanied by the ICRC. Top Ukrainian leaders largely remained silent about the convoys after the ceasefire deal was reached. The "aid" was part of the 12-point Minsk agreement.
The speaker of Russia's upper house of parliament and Russian state television channels acknowledged that Russian soldiers entered Ukraine, but referred to them as "volunteers". A reporter for Novaya Gazeta, an opposition newspaper in Russia, stated that the Russian military leadership paid soldiers to resign their commissions and fight in Ukraine in the early summer of 2014, and then began ordering soldiers into Ukraine. This reporter mentioned knowledge of at least one case when soldiers who refused were threatened with prosecution. Russian opposition MP Lev Shlosberg made similar statements, although he said combatants from his country are "regular Russian troops", disguised as units of the DPR and LPR.
In December, Ukrainian hackers published a large cache of documents coming allegedly from a hacked server of Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MID). The documents originated from various departments coordinated by MID, such as local police, road police, emergency services etc. The cache included documents describing Russian military casualties arriving on 25 August to hospitals in the Rostov area after a battle "10 km northwest of the small village of Prognoi", which matched a battle in Krasnaya Talovka reported on the same date by Ukrainian side.
In early September 2014, Russian state-owned television channels reported on the funerals of Russian soldiers who died in Ukraine during the war in Donbas, but described them as "volunteers" fighting for the "Russian world". Valentina Matviyenko, a top politician in the ruling United Russia party, also praised "volunteers" fighting in "our fraternal nation", referring to Ukraine. Russian state television for the first time showed the funeral of a soldier killed fighting in east Ukraine. State-controlled TV station Channel One showed the burial of paratrooper Anatoly Travkin in the central Russian city of Kostroma. The broadcaster said Travkin had not told his wife or commanders about his decision to fight alongside pro-Russia rebels battling government forces. "Officially he just went on leave," the news reader said.
After a series of military defeats and setbacks for the Donetsk and Lugansk separatists, who united under the banner of "Novorossiya", a term Russian President Vladimir Putin used to describe southeastern Ukraine, Russia dispatched what it called a "humanitarian convoy" of trucks across the Russo-Ukrainian border in mid-August 2014. Ukraine reacted to the move by calling it a "direct invasion". Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council published a report on the number and contents of these convoys, claiming they were arriving almost daily in November (up to 9 convoys on 30 November) and their contents were mainly arms and ammunition. In total, in November there were 1,903 trucks crossing the border from Russia to Donbas, 20 buses with soldiers or volunteers, 402 armoured personnel carriers, 256 tanks, 138 "Grad" launchers, 42 cannons and howitzers, 35 self-propelled artillery vehicles, 5 "Buk" launchers, 4 "Uragan" launchers, 4 "Buratino" flamethrowers, 6 pontoon bridge trucks, 5 "Taran" radio interception systems, 5 armoured recovery vehicles, 3 radiolocation systems, 2 truck cranes, 1 track layer vehicle, 1 radiolocation station, unknown number of "Rtut-BM" electronic warfare systems, 242 fuel tankers and 205 light off-road vehicles and vans.
About the same time, multiple reports indicated separatist militias were receiving reinforcements that allowed them to turn the tables on government forces. Armoured columns coming from Russia also pushed into southern Donetsk Oblast and reportedly captured the town of Novoazovsk, clashing with Ukrainian forces and opening a new front in the Donbas conflict.
Russian officials denied reports that Russian military units were operating in Ukraine (see war in Donbas), claiming instead they had been sent on routine drills close to the border with Ukraine and crossed the border by mistake. On 28 August 2014, Dutch Brigadier-General Nico Tak, head of NATO's crisis management center, said that "over 1,000 Russian troops are now operating inside Ukraine".
On 5 September, Sergey Krivenko, a member of Russian President's Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, commented on the growing number of Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine, saying that "the situation now is very strange, something unusual is going on; it could be described as massive dying of soldiers, which is not typical for a time of peace; people from different military units are killed as a result of shots, from loss of blood, all these reasons are documented; and the military command explains that it happened during training or provides no explanation at all".
November 2014 escalation
On 7 November, NATO officials confirmed the continued invasion of Ukraine, with 32 Russian tanks, 16 howitzer cannons and 30 trucks of troops entering the country. On 12 November, NATO reiterated the prevalence of Russian troops; US general Philip Breedlove said "Russian tanks, Russian artillery, Russian air defence systems and Russian combat troops" were sighted. The Lithuanian Mission to the United Nations denounced Russia's 'undeclared war' on Ukraine. Journalist Menahem Kahana took a picture showing a 1RL232 "Leopard" battlefield surveillance radar system in Torez, east of Donetsk; and Dutch freelance journalist Stefan Huijboom took pictures which showed the 1RL232 traveling with the 1RL239 "Lynx" radar system.
Burnt-out remains of tanks and vehicles left after battles appeared to provide further evidence of Russian involvement.
The Associated Press reported 80 unmarked military vehicles on the move in rebel-controlled areas. Three separate columns were observed, one near the main separatist stronghold of Donetsk and two outside the town of Snizhne. Several of the trucks were seen to be carrying troops.
OSCE monitors further observed vehicles apparently used to transport soldiers' dead bodies crossing the Russian-Ukrainian border – in one case a vehicle marked with Russia's military code for soldiers killed in action crossed from Russia into Ukraine on 11 November 2014, and later returned. On 23 January 2015 the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers warned about conscripts being sent to east Ukraine. NATO said it had seen an increase in Russian tanks, artillery pieces and other heavy military equipment in eastern Ukraine and renewed its call for Moscow to withdraw its forces.
The Center for Eurasian Strategic Intelligence estimated, based on "official statements and interrogation records of captured military men from these units, satellite surveillance data" as well as verified announcements from relatives and profiles in social networks, that over 30 Russian military units were taking part in the conflict in Ukraine. In total, over 8,000 soldiers had fought there at different moments. The Chicago Council on Global Affairs stated that the Russian separatists enjoyed technical advantages over the Ukrainian army since the large inflow of advanced military systems in mid-2014: effective anti-aircraft weapons ("Buk", MANPADS) suppressed Ukrainian air strikes, Russian drones provided intelligence, and Russian secure communications system thwarted the Ukrainian side from communications intelligence. The Russian side also frequently employed electronic warfare systems that Ukraine lacked. Similar conclusions about the technical advantage of the Russian separatists were voiced by the Conflict Studies Research Centre.
In November 2014, Igor Girkin gave a long interview to the extreme right-wing nationalist newspaper Zavtra ("Tomorrow") where for the first time he released details about the beginning of the conflict in Donbas. According to Girkin, he was the one who "pulled the trigger of war" and it was necessary because acquisition of Crimea alone by Russia "did not make sense" and Crimea as part of the Novorossiya "would make the jewel in the crown of the Russian Empire". Girkin had been directed to Donbas by Sergey Aksyonov and he entered Ukraine with a group of 52 officers in April, initially taking Slavyansk, Kramatorsk and then other cities. Girkin also talked about the situation in August, when separatist forces were close to defeat and only a prompt intervention of Russian "leavers" (ironic term for "soldiers on leave") saved them. Their forces took command in the siege of Mariupol as well. In response to internal criticism of the Russian government's policy of not officially recognizing Russian soldiers in Ukraine as fulfilling military service and leaving their families without any source of income if they are killed, president Vladimir Putin signed a new law in October entitling their families to a monthly compensation. Two new entitlement categories were added: "missing in action" and "declared dead" (as of 1 January 2016).
Alexandr Negrebetskih, a deputy from the Russian city of Zlatoust who fought as a volunteer on the side of separatists, complained in an interview that "the locals run to Russia, and we have to come here as they are reluctant to defend their land" which resulted in his detachment being composed of 90% Russians and only 10% locals from Donetsk.
In November, Lev Shlosberg published a response from a military attorney's office to questions he asked about the status of Pskov paratroopers killed in Ukraine in August. The office answered that the soldiers died while "fulfilling military service outside of their permanent dislocation units" (Pskov), but any further information on their orders or location of death was withheld as "classified". A political expert Alexey Makarkin compared these answers to those provided by Soviet ministry of defence during the Soviet–Afghan War when the USSR attempted to hide the scale of their casualties at any cost.
Numerous reports of Russian troops and warfare on Ukrainian territory were raised in United Nations Security Council meetings. In 12 November meeting, the representative of the United Kingdom also accused Russia of intentionally constraining OSCE observatory missions' capabilities, pointing out that the observers were allowed to monitor only two kilometers of border between Ukraine and Russia, and drones deployed to extend their capabilities were being jammed or shot down.
In November, Armament Research Services published a detailed report on arms used by both sides of the conflict, documenting a number of "flag items". Among vehicles, they documented the presence of T-72B Model 1989 and T-72B3 tanks, armoured vehicles of models BTR-82AM, MT-LB 6MA, MT-LBVM, and MT-LBVMK, and an Orlan-10 drone and 1RL239 radar vehicle. Among the ammunition, they documented 9K38 Igla (date of manufacture 2014), ASVK rifle (2012), RPG-18 rocket launchers (2011), 95Ya6 rocket boosters (2009) MRO-A (2008), 9M133 Kornet anti-tank weapons (2007), PPZR Grom (2007), MON-50 (2002), RPO-A (2002), PKP (2001), OG-7 (2001), and VSS rifles (1987). These weapons, mostly manufactured in Russia, were used by pro-Russian separatists in the conflict zone, but never "were in the Ukrainian government inventory prior to the outbreak of hostilities". The report also noted the use of PPZR Grom MANPADs, produced in Poland and never exported to Ukraine. They were however exported to Georgia in 2007 and subsequently captured by the Russian army during the Russian-Georgian War 2008. Also in November, Pantsir-S1 units were observed in separatist-controlled areas near Novoazovsk, which were never part of the UAF's inventory. Bellingcat maintains a dedicated database of geolocated images of military vehicles specific to each side of the conflict, mostly focused on Russian military equipment found on Ukrainian territory.
Poroshenko spoke of a dangerous escalation on 21 January amid reports of more than 2,000 additional Russian troops crossing the border, together with 200 tanks and armed personnel carriers. He abbreviated his visit to the World Economic Forum in Davos because of his concerns at the worsening situation. On 29 January, the chief of Ukraine's General Military Staff Viktor Muzhenko said 'the Ukrainian army is not engaged in combat operations against Russian regular units,' but that he had information about Russian civilian and military individuals fighting alongside 'illegal armed groups in combat activities.' Reporting from DPR-controlled areas on 28 January, the OSCE observed on the outskirts of Khartsyzk, east of Donetsk, "a column of five T-72 tanks facing east, and immediately after, another column of four T-72 tanks moving east on the same road which was accompanied by four unmarked military trucks, type URAL. All vehicles and tanks were unmarked." It reported on an intensified movement of unmarked military trucks, covered with canvas. After the shelling of residential areas in Mariupol, NATO's Jens Stoltenberg said: "Russian troops in eastern Ukraine are supporting these offensive operations with command and control systems, air defence systems with advanced surface-to-air missiles, unmanned aerial systems, advanced multiple rocket launcher systems, and electronic warfare systems."'
Svetlana Davydova, a mother of seven, was accused of treason for calling the Ukrainian embassy about Russian troop movements and arrested on 27 January 2015. She was held at the high-security Lefortovo jail in Moscow until her release on 3 February with charges against her still pending. The Russian General Staff said details of the case constituted a "state secret." On 9 February 2015, a group of twenty contract soldiers from Murmansk raised an official complaint to the Russian ministry of defence when they were told they would "go to the Rostov area and possibly cross the Ukrainian border to fulfill their patriotic duty". The soldiers notified human rights activists and requested the orders in written form, which they were not given. On 13 February, a young soldier, Ilya Kudryavtsev, was found dead after calling home and informing his relatives that he was to be sent on a mission to Rostov-on-Don, which is the usual starting point to Ukraine. Although he was severely beaten, his death was officially classified as a suicide.
According to a top U.S. general in January, Russian supplied drones and electronic jamming have ensured Ukrainian troops struggle to counter artillery fire by pro-Russian militants. "The rebels have Russian-provided UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) that are giving the rebels the detection capability and the ability to target Ukrainian forces". Advanced electronic jamming was also reported by OSCE observers on numerous occasions.
In February, both Ukrainian and DNR sides reported unknown sabotage groups firing at both sides of the conflict and also on residential areas, calling them a "third force". SBU published an intercepted call in which DNR commanders reported such a group had been arrested with Russian passports and military documents. DNR confirmed that such groups were indeed stopped and "destroyed" but called them "Ukrainian sabotage groups working to discredit the armed forces of the Russian Federation".
US Army commander in Europe Ben Hodges stated in February 2015 that "it's very obvious from the amount of ammunition, type of equipment, there's direct Russian military intervention in the Debaltseve area". According to estimates by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in February, Russian separatists forces number around 36,000 troops (as compared to 34,000 Ukrainian), of which 8,500-10,000 are purely Russian soldiers. Additionally, around 1,000 GRU troops are operating in the area. According to a military expert, Ilya Kramnik, total Ukrainian forces outnumber the Russian forces by a factor of two (20,000 Russian separatists vs. 40,000 fighting for Ukraine).
In February 2015, the leading independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that it had obtained documents, allegedly written by oligarch Konstantin Malofayev and others, which provided the Russian government with a strategy in the event of Viktor Yanukovych's removal from power and the break-up of Ukraine, which were considered likely. The documents outlined plans for the annexation of Crimea and the eastern portions of the country, closely describing the events that actually followed after Yanukovych's fall. The documents also described plans for a public relations campaign which would seek to justify Russian actions.
In March 2015, Novaya Gazeta published an interview with a Russian soldier, Dorzhi Batomunkuev, who operated a tank in the Battle of Debaltseve and was wounded. He confirmed that the tanks came from his military unit in Ulan-Ude in Russia and that his unit "painted over the serial numbers and unit signs straight away on the rail platforms". In November 2014, Batomunkuev was sent as a conscript to Rostov-on-Don, where he became a contract soldier. Traveling by train with his unit from Ulan-Ude, Batomunkuev said he saw "plenty of such trains" travelling along with them "day after day". After three months at Kosminskiy training facility, their unit of 31 tanks and 300 soldiers in total (mostly Buryats) was given an order to move on 8 February 2015 and crossed the Ukrainian border in the night, arriving in Donetsk in the morning. They took part in the battle on 12–14 February. Joseph Kobzon met Batomunkuev in the same hospital a few days before the NG interview. In 2016 Alexander Minakov, another Russian soldier wounded in the battle of Debaltseve, was awarded a medal "For services to the Fatherland". In March 2015, president Putin awarded the honorary name of "Guards" to two divisions: 11. paratroopers brigade from Ulan-Ude, 83. paratroopers brigade from Ussuriysk and 38. communications regiment from Moscow area. The status was awarded for undisclosed combat operations.
A report by Igor Sutyagin published by the Royal United Services Institute in March 2015 stated that a total of 42,000 regular Russian combat troops have been involved in the fighting, with a peak strength of 10,000 in December 2014. The direct involvement of the Russian troops on Ukrainian territory began in August 2014, at a time when Ukrainian military successes created the possibility that the pro-Russian rebels would collapse. According to the report, the Russian troops are the most capable units on the anti-Ukrainian side, with the regular Donetsk and Luhansk rebel formations being used essentially as "cannon fodder". The Chicago Council on Global Affairs stated that the Russian separatists enjoyed technical advantages over the Ukrainian army since the large inflow of advanced military systems in mid-2014: effective anti-aircraft weapons ("Buk", MANPADS) suppressed Ukrainian air strikes, Russian drones provided intelligence, and Russian secure communications system thwarted the Ukrainian side from communications intelligence. The Russian side also frequently employed electronic warfare systems that Ukraine lacked. Similar conclusions about the technical advantage of the Russian separatists were voiced by the Conflict Studies Research Centre.
In March 2015, a commander of the DPR special forces unit, Dmitry Sapozhnikov, gave an interview to the BBC in which he spoke openly about the involvement of Russian soldiers in the conflict. He described the arrival of Russian military vehicles and personnel from across the border as critical to the success of large-scale operations such as the battle of Debaltseve. Russian high-rank officers planned the operations and regular Russian army units with DPR forces carried them out jointly. In Sapozhnikov's opinion, "everyone knows that" and it's "no secret", but he was surprised to find out that it is not so widely acknowledged in Russia when he returned to Saint Petersburg.
In April 2015, a group of Russian volunteers returning to Ekaterinburg complained in an interview to local media about a lack of support from the local population, who sometimes called them "occupiers", and their highly ambiguous status while in Donbas: Ukraine and "the court in Madrid" considered them to be terrorists; the DPR considered them "illegal armed groups" and offered them contracts, but if they signed they would become mercenaries under Russian law. Another volunteer, a citizen of Latvia nicknamed "Latgalian", told on his return from Donbas that he was disappointed with how the situation there differed from what he had seen in the Russian media: he saw no support and sometimes open hostility to the insurgents from the local civilians, presence of Russian troops and military equipment. Also in early April, a number of Russian spetsnaz soldiers took pictures of themselves changing their military uniforms into "miner's battledress" used by the insurgents, and posted them on their VK pages, where they were picked up by Ukrainian media. Another volunteer, Bondo Dorovskih, who left to Donbas to "fight fascism" gave a long interview to Russian media on his return, describing how he found himself "not in an army, but in a gang", involved in large-scale looting. He also described the methods used by Russian army to covertly deliver military equipment, people and ammunition to Donbas, as well as hostile attitude of the local civilian population.
On 22 April 2015, the US Department of State accused the "combined Russian-separatist forces" of accumulating air defence systems, UAV along with command and control equipment in eastern Ukraine, and of conducting "complex" military training that "leaves no doubt that Russia is involved in the training". Russia is also reinforcing its military presence on the eastern border with Ukraine as well as near Belgorod which is close to Kharkiv.
In May 2015, Reuters interviewed a number of Russian soldiers, some named and some speaking under condition of anonymity, who were serving in Donbas as truck drivers, crew of a T-72B3 tank and of a "Grad" launcher. Some of their colleagues resigned when asked to go to Donbas by their commanders, which was "not an easy decision" because the salary offered was between 20 and 60,000 rubles per month. The members of the "Grad" launcher crew confirmed they were shelling targets in Ukraine from Russian territory, around 2 km from the border.
Allies of Boris Nemtsov released Putin. War in May 2015, a report on Russian involvement that he had been working on before his death. Other Russian opposition activists announced that they had found fresh graves of members of a GRU special forces brigade that had operated in Ukraine.
In May, two GRU soldiers, Alexander Alexandrov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev, were captured in a battle near Schastie and were later interviewed by press, admitting to being on active duty at the time of capture. Russian military command declared they left active service in December 2014, a claim that was repeated on Russian television by the wife of Alexandrov. Consequently, Ukraine declared it would try them as terrorists, not prisoners of war, and a controversy developed in the Russian press regarding the status of the soldiers. At the same time, Russian journalists found out that their families were strictly isolated from contacts with press and the captured soldiers. While Alexandrov declared he would seek legal methods to confirm his status in Russia, military analyst Alexander Golts considers this impossible as special forces soldiers routinely sign contract termination declaration to be backdated in such a situation.
Shortly afterward, a Russian military drone, "Forpost", was shot down near Avdeevka and recovered in good condition, with all the serial numbers and nameplates intact. On 28 May 2015, the Atlantic Council released Hiding in Plain Sight: Putin's War in Ukraine, a report which they said provided "irrefutable evidence of direct Russian military involvement in eastern Ukraine".
On 17 May 2015 two Russian soldiers of the 3rd Guards Spetsnaz Brigade were captured by Secret Service of Ukraine during a battle near town Shchastya (Lughansk oblast, Ukraine). On 18 May they were transferred to Kyiv. On 19 May a spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry stated that the two named prisoners were not active servicemen when they were captured, thus depriving the two Russians of their status as combatants and their protection under the Geneva Convention. The head of Ukraine's Security Service stated that the two men will be prosecuted for "terrorist acts". On 20 May 2015 members of the OSCE mission to Ukraine spoke with the Russian soldiers in the hospital. The OSCE 20 May 2015 report includes the following:
One of them said he had received orders from his military unit to go to Ukraine; he was to "rotate" after three months. Both of them said they had been to Ukraine "on missions" before.
In June 2015, Vice News reporter Simon Ostrovsky investigated the movements of Bato Dambaev, a Russian contract soldier from Buryatia, through a military camp in Rostov Oblast to Vuhlehirsk in Ukraine during the battle of Debaltseve and back to Buryatia, finding exact locations where Dambaev photographed himself, and came to a conclusion that Dambaev had fought in Ukraine while in active service in the Russian army. With Russia refusing to allow the OSCE to expand its mission, OSCE observer Paul Picard stated that "We often see how Russian media outlets manipulate our statements. They say that we have not seen Russian troops crossing the borders. But that only applies to two border crossings. We have no idea what is going on at the others."
In July 2015, Ukraine arrested a Russian officer, Vladimir Starkov, when his truck loaded with ammunition took a wrong turn and ended up at a Ukrainian checkpoint. On arrest, Starkov declared that he was a Russian military officer in active service and later explained that he was officially assigned to a Russian military unit in Novocherkassk, but immediately on arrival reassigned to join DPR forces.
In November 2015, a Russian judge accepted a Russian citizen's claim that serving in the DNR militia was a mitigating circumstance. On 17 December 2015, Putin admitted that Russian military intelligence officers were operating in Ukraine, stating "We never said there were not people there who carried out certain tasks including in the military sphere."
In September 2016, OSCE monitoring mission noticed military trucks with partially covered Russian number plates 26 km east from Donetsk. Also in September a Russian soldier Denis Sidorov surrendered to the Ukrainian forces in Shirokaya Balka, revealing details of Russian leadership of the local DNR forces in the area.
On 17 October 2016, the OSCE mission noted a minivan with "black licence plates with white lettering" which are used on military vehicles in Russia. A number of people in civilian and military camouflage were travelling on the vehicle.
Details of Russian involvement
Russia officially has long denied organized presence of their military units in Ukraine. Nevertheless, evidence of its soldiers' involvement is rampant. OSCE monitoring mission has on numerous occasions spotted military convoys covertly crossing the border from Russia into Donbas, as well as presence of military equipment produced in Russia and never exported to Ukraine.
On 25 August 2014, ten Russian paratroopers were captured in Ukraine, the Russian Ministry of Defense maintained that the men were lost and crossed the border into Ukraine by accident. In May 2015 two suspected Russian GRU agents (Military intelligence) were detained by Ukrainian forces, Russia's Ministry of Defense stated the men were former soldiers who were not on active duty at the time of capture. The two men were later exchanged for captured Ukrainian pilot and politician Nadiya Savchenko. In July 2015 a Russian major was detained near Donetsk as he drove an ammunition truck into a Ukrainian checkpoint, the Russian military maintained the man was not involved with the Russian military and fought for local separatists. The major was later exchanged for captured Ukrainian soldiers. In September 2015 Ukraine's border guards detained 2 Russian internal troops when they crossed the border in Ukraine's Luhansk oblast, the Russian servicemen stated they were lost and crossed the border by accident, with the Russian Military of Defense accusing Ukraine's forces of crossing into the nearby Russian village and abducting the servicemen. In October 2015, Russian Ministry of Defence admitted that "special forces were pulled out of Ukraine and sent to Syria" and that they were serving in eastern Ukraine on territories held by pro-Russian rebels. On 17 December 2015 when asked about the two detained Russian citizens in Ukraine who were being accused of being military intelligence officers President Vladimir Putin responded: "We never said there were not people there who carried out certain tasks including in the military sphere." This was generally taken as an admission that Russian military operatives were deployed to Ukraine. Before that declaration there had been a large amount of circumstantial evidence that confirmed the presence of Russia's military.
Large part of the circumstantial evidence are military vehicles and weapons that are unique to Russian armed forces and never present in Ukraine before the conflict captured by journalists and found on social media. The OSCE monitoring mission has also noted the presence of troops declaring themselves as Russian servicemen in DPR-controlled territory. As the rest of the post-Soviet republics every Russian military equipment has a hull number (bortovoi nomer). However equipment in possession of the LPR and DPR has all hull number painted over to conceal its relation to the Russian Armed Forces."THE BATTLE OF ILOVAISK". Forensic Architecture. 19 August 2019. Retrieved 17 November 2020.
In 2015, NATO spokesman Robert Pszczel stated in an interview for Dozhd TV that the alliance has sufficient evidence to make "28 member states of the alliance have no doubts about military involvement of Russia" in the Donbas conflict.
In a battle at Donetsk airport at least 31 of the people killed were Russian citizens and were delivered back to Russia. A report for the independent news site Novaya Gazeta, reprinted in The Guardian, tracked down the widow of one Russian man who died during the fighting at Donetsk airport, and sought to shed light onto the obscure structures that organised the transfer of fighters to Ukraine. The report further highlighted the 'frustration of dealing with Russian officialdom apparently so keen to cover up all traces of those fighting across the border'.
Alexander Zakharchenko said that 1200 fighters had trained in Russia for four months, crossed the border, and were ready to fight. Zakharchenko said the reinforcements included 30 tanks and 120 armoured vehicles. He later denied making the comments.
Cases of Russian soldiers killed and wounded in Ukraine are widely discussed in local Russian media in the republics from which they originated. Recruitment for Donbas is performed rather openly via veteran and other paramilitary organisations. Vladimir Yefimov, leader of one of such organisations, explained in details in an interview how the process works in Ural area. The organisation recruits mostly army veterans, but also policemen, firefighters etc. with military experience. The cost of equipping one volunteer is estimated at around 350,000 rubles (around $6500) plus cost of the volunteer's salary from 60,000 to 240,000 rubles per month depending on their experience. The volunteers are issued a document claiming that their participation is limited to "offering humanitarian help" to avoid Russian mercenary laws. In Russia's anti-mercenary legislation a mercenary is defined as someone who "takes part [in fighting] with aims counter to the interests of the Russian Federation". The recruited travel to the conflict zone without weapons, which are given at the destination. Often, Russian troops have travelled disguised as Red Cross personnel. Igor Trunov, head of Russian Red Cross in Moscow condemned these convoys, saying they made delivery of real humanitarian aid more difficult.
Another leader of a "patriotic organisation" from Orsk, Pavel Korovin, estimated that a total of around 12,000 fighters for Donbas had been recruited from Russia. A significant proportion were people in difficult financial situations, attracted by a high salary (one of the volunteers was promised 100,000 rubles or $1600). Responding to concerns about crossing the Ukrainian border, he explained that "there is a green light for the volunteers on the border" and "all that is covered by appropriate structures". The family of a killed volunteer, when asking about help in bringing back the body, is advised to "speak to the FSB, only they are controlling everything there".
Shortly before his death, Boris Nemtsov was reportedly contacted by a group of "paratroopers from Ivanovo" who complained about significant losses in their unit during a battle in Ukraine and the lack of the promised payment. Nemtsov was preparing a larger report documenting cases of Russian soldiers taking part in the war in Donbas, which is considered a possible reason for his assassination.
The repatriation of Russians killed in action or taken as prisoners of war has become a controversial topic in the media due to the Russian state's denial of involvement in Ukraine. The Associated Press compared it to the Soviet Union's secrecy during its war in Afghanistan, noting "When the true numbers of casualties became known, the invasion turned unpopular." Russian military officials tell family members only that the soldiers are on "training exercises".
Valentina Melnikova, head of the Russian Union of Committees of Soldiers' Mothers, has said that the Russian authorities were threatening the relatives of soldiers who had been killed in Ukraine, and forcing them to keep silent about their deaths. The Kremlin has tried to systematically intimidate and silence human rights workers who have raised questions about Russian soldiers' deaths in Ukraine. In mid-September 2014, Ksenia Batanova, a senior producer for the news network Dozhd, was assaulted in an attack that fractured her skull. Dozhd is a channel that has covered the Russian involvement in Ukraine, and kept a running tally of soldiers' deaths. The Kremlin's pressure on Dozhd intensified during the Ukrainian crisis. The BBC reported on the death on 12 August 2014 of a Russian soldier, Konstantin, whose telephone calls to his sister had spoken of Ukraine. The BBC team was stopped and attacked by thugs and its video camera smashed. Lev Shlosberg, an MP who was beaten unconscious after investigating the deaths of twelve paratroopers, said, "A great many Russian servicemen have died in Ukraine and their families are outraged but they don't speak out because they are afraid for their lives." Boris Vishnevsky, of the Yabloko political party, and Lyudmila Ivakhnina of the civil rights group Memorial, said that gathering information about conscripts pressured to sign professional contracts is difficult because of the fear of reprisals.
The Union of the Committees of Soldiers' Mothers of Russia started actively questioning the government's policy of "secret war" after a number of Russian soldiers officially sent for "training" to Rostov area died for reasons never officially revealed to the families. These cases were further investigated by non-mainstream media in Russia. The Russian Ministry of Defence always denied the presence of any Russian soldiers in Ukraine and, when presented with undeniable evidence about specific individuals, suggested that they might have crossed the border "by mistake", were "on holiday" at the time, or that their contracts were cancelled (but actually backdated). Soldier's Mothers stated that if the deceased Russian soldiers weren't officially sent to the war zone, their families would not receive social support and the veteran's pension.
On 2 October 2014, RBC published An RBC investigation: Where Russian soldiers in Ukraine are from, in which it listed Russian military divisions, soldiers of which are assumed to have been secretly dispatched from Russia to Ukraine and used there. In 2015, Vice News published a series titled Russia's Ghost Army in Ukraine in which they spoke to a number of families of Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine. The mother of Sergey Andrianov, a Russian from Podsolnechnoe in Samara Oblast who was killed on 28 August 2014, presents a number of documents she received from her son's military unit: the death certificate issued in Rostov-on-Don that specifies that he died at a "place of temporary placement" while "completing a special task" and a document certifying "transportation of the body through the border of Russian Federation". All of the mother's questions to her son's commanders were dismissed as a "state secret" and she was told that she would receive compensation of 100,000 rubles ($1600).
On 16 October 2014, the deputy chief of the Security Service of Ukraine said that the service had released 16 out of 131 servicemen of the Armed Forces of Russian Federation back home to their relatives who petitioned through a hotline.
According to soldiers' rights advocates, the families of Russian soldiers killed after being sent to Ukraine have been told to keep silent, and some families say they have not received the various compensations they are entitled to after a breadwinner in military service has been killed. Svetlana Davydova, a mother of seven, was arrested in 2015, accused of treason for calling the Ukrainian embassy about Russian troop movements, and was held at the high-security Lefortovo jail in Moscow. The Russian General Staff said details of the case constituted a "state secret". The charges against Davydova were dropped the following month. An amendment signed by Putin in late May 2015 banned information about the deaths of Russian servicemen "during special operations" in peacetime.
Discussing Russian volunteers in an interview with RIA Novosti on 22 June 2015, Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Security Council of Russia, stated: "We don't call on anyone to do this, we don't encourage it. But realistically, to stop them would be impossible". While Russia has charged one of its citizens, Roman Zheleznov, for fighting in the Ukrainian Azov Battalion, as of 25 June 2015, it has charged no one for fighting alongside the separatists. Since counting began on 1 September 2014 until 1 June 2015, the European monitoring mission on the Russian side of the border has recorded 20,021 men in military uniforms crossing to and from rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine.
In July 2015, a number of Russian contract soldiers at "Kadamovskiy" poligon (Rostovskaya oblast) were charged with desertion after they refused to go into Ukraine as "volunteers". They reported frequent visits of recruiters promising veteran status and daily payment of 8,000 rubles for those fighting in Donbas. They said they were unaware that the money is rarely paid and in case of death, capture or injury in battle they will be most likely abandoned and their official military status denied by Russian army. Later that year they were convicted for "refusal to carry out orders" in spite of lack of any orders presented by the prosecution and other inconsistencies.
In September 2015 OSCE monitoring mission spotted Russian TOS-1 "Buratino" thermobaric weapon launchers in separatist training area near Lugansk and in June 2016 its drone spotted a camouflaged R-330ZH "Zhitel" electronic countermeasure station 15 km from Donetsk, these findings being notable as both weapons are unique to the army of Russian Federation.
By October 2015, eastern Ukraine and Crimea were two of Russia's frozen zones. The chances were that the frozen conflict might persist in the Donbas, where the fighting was at a low level, but the threat of escalation remained.
In June 2017 another GRU officer Viktor Ageyev was captured by Ukrainian Forces in Zhelobok in the Luhansk oblast. Russian Ministry of Defence denied that he was in active military service but investigation by BBC Russian Service confirmed Ageyev was on military contract in Russian army since March 2017.
I have read and heard much criticism regarding our decision to join the fight in Donbass and in Syria. ... Would it be acceptable for Russia, considering its international standing, to keep mum and recognise the coup in Ukraine, and to leave Russians and Russian speakers in Ukraine in the lurch after the first order issued by the organisers of the anti-constitutional armed revolt, which was supported by their foreign sponsors, banned many things that were connected with the Russian language?— Sergey Lavrov, Primakov Readings International Forum, Moscow, June 30, 2017
Russian medal count
Bellingcat founder and journalist Eliot Higgins has referred to the unusual spike in medals awarded to Russian troops coinciding with major battles occurring in Ukraine. It was noticed that between 25 August 2003 and 7 November 2014 there was 0.6 medals For Distinction in Combat awarded to Russian servicemen per day. However, between 7 November 2014 and 18 February 2016 there was an average of 9.3 medals awarded per day, over a fifteenfold increase. Moreover, the award dates directly coincide with major conflicts occurring in Ukraine at the time. August 2014 sees an initial spike of 60 medal per day being awarded, which coincides with reports of regular Russian troops crossing into Ukraine to aid separatist forces. The medal awards peak during November and December 2014, at over 70 per day, which was a crucial turning point during the Second Battle of Donetsk Airport, continuing to remain at over 10 medals per day until March 2015, which coincides with the Battle of Debaltseve. Also important to note is that the medal For Distinction in Combat may only be awarded for activities undertaken during a combat mission, therefore the large spike in medals awarded in late 2014 and early 2015 suggests a large contingent of Russian servicemen undertaking combat missions. In all 4300 medals were awarded between 7 July 2014 and 18 February 2016, suggesting combat operations involving active duty Russian military personnel occurred during the time period. Likewise spikes in awarding other medals were seen as well. The medal For Courage which was awarded at a rate of 1.4 medals per day between September 2008 and August 2014 increased to 6.3 medals per day between August 2014 and November 2015. The Medal of Suvorov saw an increase of award rate from 1.5 medals per day between October 2013 and November 2014 to 6.8 medals per day after November 2014. In fact in the time period between 24 November 2014 and 25 January 2015 more of the medals were awarded then all of 2013 combined.
In a press briefing by the Ukrainian Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council (NSDC), Andriy Parubiy stated that militants were trained in a military facility in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. "Near Rostov-on-Don, there is a big military base where terrorists are preparing for deployment into the territory of the Ukrainian state. This is confirmed not only by our intelligence, but also Russian prisoners who were detained, and they testify about this base," Parubiy said. He added that more than a thousand militants are trained by Russian instructors, and then they in small armed groups try to break into the territory of Ukraine. On 21 May, Ukraine detained a Russian citizen trying to enter the country; he had military experience and was found to have recently trained in the Rostov facility.
According to Russian 'volunteer' insurgent organiser Aleksandr Zhuchkovsky, Rostov-on-Don acts as a staging area, where soldiers live in hotels, rented flats and tent camps. In particular, the New York Times reports that the small village of Golovinka (about 60 kilometres (37 mi) northwest of Rostov-on-Don) and nearby Kuzminka military base is a staging area for Russian soldiers and weapons headed to Ukraine.
In June 2014, Jen Psaki stated that the United States Department of State was confident that Russia had sent tanks and rocket launchers from a deployment site in southwest Russia into eastern Ukraine, and NATO satellite imagery showed that on 10 and 11 June main battle tanks were stationed across the border at Donetsk in a staging area in Rostov-on-Don.
In July 2014, Reuters published a logbook of an 9K38 Igla missile that was signed out of military storage in Moscow for a military base in Rostov-on-Don, and ended up with insurgents in Donbas, where it was eventually taken over by the Ukrainian forces.
After OSCE observers arrived at Gukovo border crossing on 9 August, they reported that there was a stream of multiple groups of people wearing military-style dress crossing the border between Russia and Ukraine, in both directions, some of them clearly identifying themselves as members of DNR militia. They also observed several ambulance evacuations of wounded supporters of the DPR and LPR.
In February 2015, a group of Spanish nationals were arrested in Madrid for fighting in the war in Donbas on the separatist side. Travelling through Moscow, they were met by a "government official" and sent to Donetsk, where they were provided with accommodation, uniforms and weapons, but they fought as volunteers. They stated there are "a few hundreds" of Western volunteers, mostly from Serbia and France, "half of them communists, half Nazis", fighting jointly for the "liberation of Russia from Ukrainian invasion".
In March 2016, Germany's Bild reported that minutes from an October 2015 meeting of the "Interministerial Commission for the Provision of Humanitarian Aid for the Affected Areas of the Southeast of the Donetsk and Lugansk Regions" indicated that Russia was running militant-controlled parts of east Ukraine. According to Bild, "It is notable that no members of the self-declared people's republics in eastern Ukraine are on the commission".
Russian Order of Battle: 2021
Separatist Forces in the Donbas are organized into two corps: 1st Army Corps and 2nd Army Corps. Ukrainian sources have described these two corps as "operationally subordinate" to the 8th Guards Combined Arms Army HQ within Russia's Southern Military District. As of 2021, subordinate units in these two corps are said to include:
- 1st Army Corps:
- 4 Motorized Rifle Brigades (1st, 3rd, 5th, 100th Motorized Rifle Brigades)
- 2 Motorized Rifle Regiments (9th and 11th Motorized Rifle Regiments)
- 2 special forces battalions (1st and 3rd SF Battalions)
- 1 tank battalion (2nd Battalion)
- 1 reconnaissance battalion (Sparta Separate Reconnaissance Battalion)
- 1 artillery brigade (Kalmius Artillery Brigade)
- 2nd Army Corps:
- 3 Motorized Rifle Brigades (2nd, 4th, 7th Motorized Rifle Brigades)
- 1 Motorized Rifle Regiment (6th Motorized Rifle Regiment)
- 1 tank battalion (Pantzir Special Mechanized Force)
- 1 reconnaissance battalion (Greka" Separate Reconnaissance Battalion)
- 1 artillery brigade
More than 110 Ukrainian soldiers were killed in the conflict between Ukrainian government forces and Russian-backed separatists in 2019.
In December 2019, Ukraine and pro-Russian separatists began swapping prisoners of war, in a bid to restore peace and end the war. Around 200 prisoners were exchanged on 29 December 2019.
Reactions to the Russian invasion in Crimea
Interim Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov accused Russia of "provoking a conflict" by backing the seizure of the Crimean parliament building and other government offices on the Crimean peninsula. He compared Russia's military actions to the 2008 Russo-Georgian War, when Russian troops occupied parts of the Republic of Georgia and the breakaway enclaves of Abkhazia and South Ossetia were established under the control of Russian-backed administrations. He called on Putin to withdraw Russian troops from Crimea and stated that Ukraine will "preserve its territory" and "defend its independence". On 1 March, he warned, "Military intervention would be the beginning of war and the end of any relations between Ukraine and Russia."
On 1 March, Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov placed the Armed Forces of Ukraine on full alert and combat readiness.
On 16 September 2015, the Ukrainian parliament voted for the law that sets 20 February 2014 as the official date of the Russian temporary occupation of Crimean peninsula. On 7 October 2015 the President of Ukraine signed the law into force.
The Ministry of Temporarily Occupied Territories and IDPs was established by Ukrainian government on 20 April 2016 to manage occupied parts of Donetsk, Luhansk and Crimea regions affected by Russian military intervention of 2014.
US and NATO military response
On 4 March 2014, the United States pledged $1 billion in aid to Ukraine.
Russia's actions increased tensions in nearby countries historically within its sphere of influence, particularly the Baltic and Moldova. All have large Russian-speaking populations, and Russian troops are stationed in the breakaway Moldovan territory of Transnistria. Some devoted resources to increasing defensive capabilities, and many requested increased support from the U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which they had joined in recent years. The conflict "reinvigorated" NATO, which had been created to face the Soviet Union, but had devoted more resources to "expeditionary missions" in recent years.
In 2014, Alexander Vershbow said, that Russia "have declared NATO as an adversary", adding, that NATO must do the same. Initial deployments in March and early April were restricted to increased air force monitoring and training in the Baltics and Poland, and single ships in the Black Sea. On 16 April, officials announced the deployment of ships to the Baltic and Mediterranean Seas, and increasing exercises in "Eastern Europe". The measures were apparently limited so as not to appear aggressive. Leaders emphasized that the conflict was not a new Cold War but Robert Legvold disagreed. Others[who?] supported applying George F. Kennan's concept of containment to possible Russian expansion. Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul said, "We are enduring a drift of disengagement in world affairs. As we pull back, Russia is pushing forward. I worry about the new nationalism that Putin has unleashed and understand that many young Russians also embrace these extremist ideas."
Beginning 23 April 600 US troops from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team held bilateral exercises in Poland and the Baltic. Plans were made for a communications mission to counter Russian propaganda in eastern Ukraine, improve internal Ukrainian military communication, and handle apparent Russian infiltration of the security services.
In addition to diplomatic support in its conflict with Russia, the U.S. provided Ukraine with US$1.5 billion in military aid during the 2010s. In 2018 the U.S. House of Representatives passed a provision blocking any training of Azov Battalion of the Ukrainian National Guard by American forces. In previous years, between 2014 and 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives passed amendments banning support of Azov, but due to pressure from the Pentagon, the amendments were quietly lifted. On September 24, 2019 the U.S. House of Representatives initiated an impeachment inquiry against incumbent U.S. president Donald Trump in the wake of scandal surrounding a phone conversation that Trump had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on July 25.
On 5 March the Pentagon announced, independently of NATO, that it would send six fighter jets and a refueling aircraft to augment the four already participating in the Baltic Air Policing mission. The US rotation was due to last through the end of April. The Polish Air Force was scheduled to participate from 1 May through 31 August.
- Throughout the second half of March, the UK, France, the Czech Republic, and Denmark all offered aircraft to augment the Polish rotation. UK officials announced plans to send six Eurofighter Typhoon. Over the next two weeks, France offered four fighters, and anonymous officials mentioned possible air support for Poland and stationing AWACs in Poland and Romania. The Czech Republic offered to deploy fighter aircraft to interested countries bordering or near Ukraine. Denmark planned to send six F-16 fighters.
- After some consideration, Germany's Defence Ministry committed to sending six Eurofighters (to reinforce the Portuguese rotation beginning in September) and leading "minesweeping maneuvers" in the Baltic Sea. A multinational group of four minesweeper ships and a supply ship from the Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 1 left Kiel, Germany on 22 April.
- Swedish, Lithuanian, and US aircraft took part in exercises over the Baltic in early April. The US was considering establishing a small but "continuous" military force in the Baltic to reassure its allies. NATO and Estonia agreed to base aircraft at the Ämari Air Base, which was reportedly possible due to the increased number of planes offered by allies. The Lithuanian defence ministry reported that the number of Russian planes flying close to the border had increased in January and February.
Black and Mediterranean Seas
An Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, USS Truxtun, crossed into the Black Sea on 6 March to participate in long-planned exercises with Bulgaria and Romania.[d] American officials stated that it was part of a routine deployment for exercises with the Bulgarian and Romanian navies. Truxtun left the Black Sea by 28 March, but some politicians argued that it should return as a show of support. An additional 175 Marines were to be deployed to the Black Sea Rotational Force in Romania, though this was decided in late 2012.
On 10 April, the guided missile destroyer USS Donald Cook entered the Black Sea to "reassure NATO allies and Black Sea partners of America's commitment to strengthen and improve interoperability while working towards mutual goals in the region", according to a Pentagon spokesman. On 14 April, the ship was repeatedly buzzed by a Su-24 Russian attack aircraft. Donald Cook left the Black Sea on 28 April, leaving USS Taylor.
On 30 April, Canada redeployed HMCS Regina from counter-terrorist operations in the Arabian Sea, likely to join Standing NATO Maritime Group 1, which had itself been reassigned to the eastern Mediterranean in response to events in Ukraine.
Poland and Romania
- Seven U.S. F-16's were scheduled to participate in a training exercise in Poland. On 6 March, it was announced that 12 fighters and 300 service personnel would go to Poland. The increase was attributed to concerns over Russian activities in Crimea. It was later announced that the detachment from the 555th Fighter Squadron would remain through the end of 2014. Six F-16's were also stationed in Romania with no given departure date.
- On 10 March, NATO began using Boeing E-3 Sentry AWACS airborne radar aircraft to monitor Poland's and Lithuania's border with Kaliningrad. Monitoring also took place in Romania.
- On 26 March, US and UK defence chiefs agreed to accelerate the development of the NATO missile defence system. Talks were "dominated" by the situation in Ukraine, but officials emphasized that this was not a response to Russian actions.
NATO foreign ministers at a meeting in early April did not rule out stationing troops in countries near Russia, saying that Russia had "gravely breached the trust upon which our cooperation must be based". Poland requested that "two heavy brigades" be stationed on its territory, to mixed responses; NATO considered increased support for Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Moldova.
- On 17 April, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced a deployment of six CF-18 jet fighters to be based in Poland, and 20 additional staff officers to the NATO headquarters. The planes were apparently redirected to Romania, along with at least 220 Canadian personnel.
- On 24 April, France announced the deployment of four Rafale fighters to Poland's Malbork Airbase as a "defensive posture". The jets have been replaced by four Mirage 2000.
- The Allied Joint Force Command based in Naples, Italy, relocates to Cincu, Romania, for 12 days.
Relations with Russia
According to Stars and Stripes, the Atlas Vision exercise with Russia (planned for July) was cancelled. The Rapid Trident exercise in western Ukraine, scheduled for the same time, was to proceed as planned, as was the naval exercise Sea Breeze.
France suspended most military cooperation with Russia and considered halting the sale of two Mistral-class warships it had been contracted to build. Canada, the UK, and Norway all suspended cooperation to some extent. On 1 April, NATO suspended all military and civilian cooperation with Russia. Russian diplomatic access to NATO headquarters was restricted.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has called for more cooperation with Russia in the fight against terrorism following a deadly attack on the headquarters of a French satirical weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo in January 2015.
Military actions in other countries
In March 2014, Ukraine reported that Russian units in Belarus were participating in Russia's military exercises near the Ukrainian border and expressed concern about this being a direct threat to Ukraine.
On 7 March 2014, the Turkish Air Force reported it scrambled six F-16 fighter jets after a Russian surveillance plane flew along Turkey's Black Sea coast. It was the second incident of its kind reported that week, with one occurring the day before on 6 March. The Russian plane remained in international airspace. Diplomatic sources revealed that Turkey has warned Russia that if it attacks Ukraine and its Crimean Tatar population, it would blockade Russian ships' passage to the Black Sea.
International diplomatic and economic responses
Several members of the international community have expressed grave concerns over the Russian intervention in Ukraine and criticized Russia for its actions in post-revolutionary Ukraine, including the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Canada, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, South Korea, Georgia, Moldova, Turkey, Australia and the European Union as a whole, which condemned Russia, accusing it of breaking international law and violating Ukrainian sovereignty. Many of these countries implemented economic sanctions against Russia or Russian individuals or companies, to which Russia responded in kind. Amnesty International has expressed its belief that Russia is fuelling the conflict. The UN Security Council held a special meeting 1 March 2014 on the crisis. The G7 countries condemned the violation of Ukraine's sovereignty, and urged Russia to withdraw. All G7 leaders are refusing to participate in it due to assumed violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, in contravention of Russia's obligations under the UN Charter and its 1997 basing agreement with Ukraine.
In 2014, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly published a statement (the "Baku Declaration") discussing the events in Ukraine in detail. Specifically, it pointed out that Russia is a signatory of the Helsinki Accords and committed to observing its rules, including respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other member countries, as well as the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances that specifically guaranteed the integrity of Ukraine's borders. As noted by OSCE, "Russian Federation has, since February 2014, violated every one of the ten Helsinki principles in its relations with Ukraine, some in a clear, gross and thus far uncorrected manner, and is in violation with the commitments it undertook in the Budapest Memorandum, as well as other international obligations". OSCE condemned actions of the Russian Federation, calling them "coercion" and "military aggression" that are "designed to subordinate the rights inherent in Ukraine's sovereignty to the Russian Federation's own interests". In 2016 OSCE deputy mission head in Ukraine Alexander Hug summarized the mission's two years of observations stating that "since the beginning of the conflict" the mission has seen "armed people with Russian insignia", vehicle tracks crossing border between Russia and Ukraine as well as talked to prisoners who were declaring themselves Russian soldiers.
In January 2015, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) accepted a resolution that noted "the direct involvement of the Russian Federation in the emergence and worsening of the situation in these parts of Ukraine" and called both sides to fully respect the terms of Minsk Agreement.
In June 2015, OSCE PA repeated condemnation of "Russia's aggression against Ukraine, including its illegal annexation and occupation of Crimea" ("Helsinki Declaration"). On 28 August 2015 Poland's newly elected President Andrzej Duda said in Berlin during talks with German President Joachim Gauck and Chancellor Angela Merkel that Poland is already taking in large numbers of refugees from the Ukraine conflict as part of the EU's refugee programme, and does not intend to join in talks conducted since 2014 by France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine. The policy of strategic partnership between Kyiv and Warsaw requires further strengthening of military and technical cooperation, best exemplified by the Lithuanian–Polish–Ukrainian Brigade, but the more immediate task, informed Poland's State secretary Krzysztof Szczerski, is Ukraine's constitutional reform leading to broad decentralization of power, in which Poland's post-Soviet experience is going to be used.
In September 2015 the United Nations Human Rights Office estimated that 8000 casualties had resulted from the conflict, noting that the violence has been "fuelled by the presence and continuing influx of foreign fighters and sophisticated weapons and ammunition from the Russian Federation".
The intervention caused turbulence in financial markets. Many markets around the world fell slightly due to the threat of instability. The Swiss franc climbed to a 2-year high against the dollar and 1-year high against the Euro. The Euro and the US dollar both rose, as did the Australian dollar. The Russian stock market declined by more than 10 percent, whilst the Russian ruble hit all-time lows against the US dollar and the Euro. The Russian central bank hiked interest rates and intervened in the foreign exchange markets to the tune of $12 billion to try to stabilize its currency. Prices for wheat and grain rose, with Ukraine being a major exporter of both crops. In early August 2014, the German DAX was down by 6 percent for the year, and 11 percent since June, over concerns Russia, Germany's 13th biggest trade partner, would retaliate against sanctions.
Reactions to the Russian intervention in Donbas
- Amnesty International considers the war to be "an international armed conflict" and presented independent satellite photos analysis proving involvement of regular Russian army in the conflict. It accuses Ukrainian militia and separatist forces for being responsible for war crimes and has called on all parties, including Russia, to stop violations of the laws of war. Amnesty has expressed its belief that Russia is fueling the conflict, 'both through direct interference and by supporting the separatists in the East' and called on Russia to 'stop the steady flow of weapons and other support to an insurgent force heavily implicated in gross human rights violations.'
- NATO – The Russian government's decision to send a truck convoy into Luhansk on 22 August without Ukrainian consent was condemned by NATO and several NATO member states, including the United States. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen called it "a blatant breach of Russia's international commitments" and "a further violation of Ukraine's sovereignty by Russia".
- European Union – Leaders warned that Russia faced harsher economic sanctions than the EU had previously imposed if it failed to withdraw troops from Ukraine. In 2015 the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe [PACE] published a resolution that openly speaks about a "Russian aggression in Ukraine".
- Ukraine – Chairman of the Ukrainian Parliament Oleksandr Turchynov said "It's a hybrid war that Russia has begun against Ukraine, a war with the participation of the Russian security services and the army."
- United States – US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power commented on the invasion by noting that "At every step, Russia has come before this council to say everything but the truth. It has manipulated, obfuscated and outright lied. Russia has to stop lying and has to stop fuelling this conflict." The United States government said it supported stiffer sanctions as well.
- Nordic countries – On 9 April 2015 a joint declaration by the ministers of defence of Norway, Denmark, Finland and Sweden and the minister of foreign affairs of Iceland (which does not have a ministry of defence) was brought by the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten. The declaration first asserts that the Russian aggression against Ukraine and the illegal annexation of Crimea is a violation of international law and other international treaties and that the Nordic countries must judge Russia not by the rhetoric of the Kremlin, but by the actions of the country. After pointing out that Russia has increased its military exercise and intelligence gathering activity in the Baltic and Northern areas violating Nordic borders and jeopardizing civilian air traffic, the declaration states the intention of the Nordic countries to face this new situation with solidarity and increased cooperation. The Nordic unity commitment is extended to include solidarity with the Baltic countries and to a collaboration within NATO and EU to strengthen also the unity within these entities and to maintain the cross-Atlantic link.
Street protests against the war in Ukraine have arisen in Russia itself. Notable protests first occurred in March and large protests occurred in September when "tens of thousands" protested the war in Ukraine with a peace march in downtown Moscow on Sunday, 21 September 2014, "under heavy police supervision".
Critics of Vladimir Putin also express cautious criticism in the press and social media. Garry Kasparov, a consistent critic of Putin, whom he has called 'a revanchist KGB thug', has written on the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 shootdown and called for Western action.
Former Russian vice-minister of foreign affairs Georgy Kunadze (1991 –1993) said that if Western policy toward Russia had been tougher in 2008, during the Russo-Georgian War, "there would be no Crimea nor Lugandon" (the latter was a reference to the LPR).
Ukrainian public opinion
A poll of the Ukrainian public, excluding Russian-annexed Crimea, was taken by the International Republican Institute from 12 to 25 September 2014. 89% of those polled opposed 2014 Russian military intervention in Ukraine. As broken down by region, 78% of those polled from Eastern Ukraine (including Dnipropetrovsk Oblast) opposed said intervention, along with 89% in Southern Ukraine, 93% in Central Ukraine, and 99% in Western Ukraine. As broken down by native language, 79% of Russian speakers and 95% of Ukrainian speakers opposed the intervention. 80% of those polled said the country should remain a unitary country.
A poll of the Crimean public in Russian-annexed Crimea was taken by the Ukrainian branch of Germany's biggest market research organization, GfK, on 16–22 January 2015. According to its results: "Eighty-two percent of those polled said they fully supported Crimea's inclusion in Russia, and another 11 percent expressed partial support. Only 4 percent spoke out against it."
In March 2014, Estonia's president Toomas Hendrik Ilves said: "Justification of a military invasion by a fabricated need to protect ethnic "compatriots" resuscitates the arguments used to annex Sudetenland in 1938." During the Group of 20 (G-20) summit of world leaders in Brisbane, Australia in November 2014, an incident occurred during private meetings that became quite public. At the private leaders' retreat, held the weekend before the official opening of the summit, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper told Russian President Vladimir Putin "I guess I'll shake your hand but I have only one thing to say to you: You need to get out of Ukraine." The incident occurred as Putin approached Harper and a group of G-20 leaders and extended his hand toward Harper. After the event was over, a "spokesman for the Russian delegation said Putin's response was: 'That's impossible because we are not there'."
In March 2015, NATO's top commander in Europe General Philip M. Breedlove has been criticized by German politicians and diplomats as spreading "dangerous propaganda" by constantly inflating the figures of Russian military involvement in an attempt to subvert the diplomatic solution of the war in Donbas spearheaded by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. According to Germany's Der Spiegel magazine, "the German government, supported by intelligence gathered by the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany's foreign intelligence agency, did not share the view of NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR)."
- Buhas bus attack near Volnovakha
- Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 shootdown
- Russia–Ukraine border and Russia–Ukraine barrier
- Russia–Ukraine relations
- Russian military intervention in Syria
- Temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine
- Occupied territories of Georgia
- Ministry of Temporarily Occupied Territories and IDPs
- The Forgotten (2019 film)
- Cherkasy (film)
- Arms, military exercises and general aid.
- There remain "some contradictions and inherent problems" regarding date on which the annexation began. Ukraine claims 20 February 2014 as the date of "the beginning of the temporary occupation of Crimea and Sevastopol by Russia.", citing timeframe inscribed on the Russian medal "For the Return of Crimea", and in 2015 the Ukrainian parliament officially designated the date as such. On 20 February 2014 Vladimir Konstantinov who at that time was a chairman of the republican council of Crimea and representing the Party of Regions express his thoughts about succession of the region from Ukraine. On 23 February 2014 the Russian ambassador to Ukraine Mikhail Zurabov was recalled to Moscow to due "worsening of situation in Ukraine". In early March 2015, President Putin stated in a Russian movie about annexation of Crimea that he ordered the operation to "restore" Crimea to Russia following an all-night emergency meeting of 22–23 February 2014, and in 2018 Russian Foreign Minister claimed that earlier "start date" on the medal was due to "technical misunderstanding".
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- "7683rd meeting of the United Nations Security Council. Thursday, 28 April 2016, 3 p.m. New York".
Mr. Prystaiko (Ukraine): <...> In that regard, I have to remind the Council that the official medal that was produced by the Russian Federation for the so-called return of Crimea has the dates on it, starting with 20 February, which is the day before that agreement was brought to the attention of the Security Council by the representative of the Russian Federation. Therefore, the Russian Federation started — not just planned, but started — the annexation of Crimea the day before we reached the first agreement and while President Yanukovych was still in power.
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We had to take unavoidable steps so that events did not develop as they are currently developing in southeast Ukraine. ... Of course our troops stood behind Crimea's self-defence forces.
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"Verilişin aparıcısı İqor Prokopenko onların Cövhər Dudayev adına Könüllülər Batalyonunda fundamental islamçılar, terrorçu və banditlərlə birlikdə Rusiyaya qarşı vuruşduğunu iddia edərək deyir: “Belə könüllülər arasında İslamçı-Bozqurd dəstəsinin keçmiş komandiri, 703 sayli briqadanın tərkibində Azərbaycan tərəfindən Dağılq Qarabağda döyüşən Nurəddin İsmayılov və “Bozqurd”çu dəstəsinin daha bir keçmiş döyüşçüsü İsa Sadıqovdur. İsa Sadıqov 1990-ci illərdə Azərbaycan müdafiə nazirinin müavini olub. Sonra isə axtarışa verilib. Lakin bu, onun 2004-cu ildə Norveçdə məskunlaşmasına mane olmayıb. Hazırda Norveç vətəndaşıdır. İndi isə Ukraynada Cövhər Dudayev adına batalyonun qərargah rəisidir".
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overwhelming majority of some 18,800 service personnel ... ignoring orders .... Only about 4,300 will continue their service ...
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