Theories that Vladimir Putin would back down from his support for Ukrainian “separatists” (read: terrorists) in the wake of Flight MH17’s destruction appear to have been dashed, as the U.S. State Department rather casually informed reporters that Russia is not only shooting down Ukrainian jets, but taking artillery potshots at their ground positions too. I could have sworn this kind of aggression against sovereign states was severely frowned upon, but I don’t see any severe frowns rising from this Reuters report:
“We have new evidence that the Russians intend to deliver heavier and more powerful multiple rocket launchers to the separatist forces in Ukraine, and have evidence that Russia is firing artillery from within Russia to attack Ukrainian military positions,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.
Harf, speaking at a regular media briefing, cited intelligence reports, but said she could give no more information of what the reports were based on.
Russia has in the past denied it is directly involved with the rebellion in its western neighbor, but the United States and its European allies accuse Moscow of arming and encouraging the uprising and have imposed sanctions on Moscow in response.
Ukraine’s Security Council said on Wednesday preliminary information indicated that missiles which brought down two government fighter jets over eastern Ukraine were fired from Russia.
Russia’s Defense Ministry on Thursday dismissed this, saying it was “an attempt to mislead the public,” Interfax news agency reported, citing a defense ministry official.
I sense no great enthusiasm from the Obama Administration to “mislead the public” into thinking Russia is doing act-of-war stuff that our Fundraiser-in-Chief might be obliged to respond to. On the contrary, this White House very much wants the world to go away for a while.
The Kyiv Post gets into specifics about that incoming Russian fire:
According to the [Ukrainian government’s] counter-terrorism communications center, Russia fired at eight Ukrainian positions on July 22-24. Artillery fire and multiple-rocket launchers on July 24 twice shelled a checkpoint near the town of Ilinka from Russia. The same night, Ukrainian positions near Kamyshne, Berezovo, Amvrosievka and the Luhansk Airport were shelled by Grad rockets, stated Anti-Terrorism Operation spokesperson Vladyslav Seleznyov.
“Positions and checkpoints of anti-terrorist forces continue to be fired upon, including from the territory of the Russian Federation,” said Seleznyov. “The guerillas are trying to hold parts of the Ukrainian state’s borders.”
In a post on VKontakte, a Russian social media site, alleged Russian soldier Vadim Grigoriev boasts of “shelling Ukraine all night,” from Rostov Oblast, which included pictures of artillery cannons and munitions.
Kyiv claims that Russia has already shot down three Su-25 jets with projectiles from Russia. On the eve of the Malaysian airliner shoot-down, Kyiv says a Russian MiG-29 shot down one of its jets from Russian airspace. On July 23, National Security and Defense Council spokesman Andriy Lysenko said two more Su jets were shot down at an altitude of 5,200 meters by rockets fired from Russia.
Additionally, the Ukrainian Border Guard Service stated that on July 22-July 23 Russia fired three times on its positions near Amvrosiyivka, Herasimovka and the Uspenka border crossing with artillery batteries and Grad rockets.
Russia continues to violate Ukraine’s airspace, the Border Guard Service added. Four times on the evening of July 22 Russian military helicopters and drones flew into Ukraine by as deep as 500 meters.
Things are looking bleak in Ukraine, where the entire government resigned on Thursday, as reported by the Associated Press:
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk announced his resignation Thursday, opening the way for new elections that would reflect the country’s starkly changed political scene after the ouster of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in February.
Yatsenyuk, a supporter of closer ties with Europe and a key participant in the protests that toppled Yanukovych, made the announcement from the dais of Parliament after two parties said they would pull out of the governing coalition. He said Parliament could no longer do its work and pass necessary laws.
President Petro Poroshenko, elected to replace Yanukovych May 25, earlier praised the withdrawal of the two parties. He said that “all opinion polls, and direct conversations with people, show that society wants a complete rebooting of the government.”
Poroshenko’s calls for political renewal suggests the resignation and new elections are the result of planning and political maneuvering, not chaos.
Putin might be able to engineer some chaos if he keeps that separatist movement going, leading to the sort of grinding fear and seemingly endless bloodshed that wears down national willpower. If no one can deal with the Donetsk separatists, or the economic and public-safety problems poised by their activities, then Putin will never have to worry about facing a strong opponent in Kiev. If the Russians really are contributing artillery support to their trigger-happy pet terrorists, it’s a significant doubling down of Putin’s resolve in the face of the MH17 atrocity.
Speaking of which, the Australians – who lost several dozen citizens aboard Flight MH17 – have offered to provide 50 police officers to secure the crash site, going so far as sending the officers to Europe. “It is vital that the search and the investigation not be contaminated by people who have a vested interest in the outcome,” said Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
It seems like it might be a bit late for that, given the horrible stories of looting, abuse of human remains, and tampering with evidence, at a site that has been under control of the rebels until now. Abbott doesn’t want to negotiate with the rebels, because he doesn’t recognize their authority over the area. He talked with Putin, who need only say he can’t control the rebels to keep that crime scene nice and contaminated, for as long as necessary.