Earlier this week, I relayed an account from a colleague about the situation in Ivano-Frankivsk, a city in Western Ukraine that is now feeling the effects of the violence between Ukrainians and pro-Russian separatists that had, until recently, been largely contained in Eastern Ukraine.
As if this wasn’t troubling enough, there are now reports that even more Russian forces have moved into Eastern Ukraine. NATO recently announced that Russia is sending convoys of troops and tanks across the border. In a brazen and certainly related move, Putin is now threatening to send long-range bombers on patrols in the Gulf of Mexico.
Philip Breedlove, the American four-star general currently serving as the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, commented on the situation, “What worries me the most is that we have a situation now that the former international border between Ukraine and Russia is completely porous, it is completely wide open. Forces, money, support, supplies, weapons are flowing back and forth across this border completely at will and that is not a good situation.”
True to form, Russian officials are denying these reports and maintaining that they have never – and will never – move troops into Eastern Ukraine, which is controlled by pro-Russian separatists.
Igor Konashenkov, a Russian military spokesman, rejected NATO’s statement and claimed that “We have already stopped paying attention to unsubstantiated statements by NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Philip Breedlove, on Russian military convoys he ‘observed’ allegedly invading Ukraine.”
This denial flies in the face of a number of accounts, not just from NATO.
In August, the Guardian reported that they had witnessed 23 armored personnel carriers crossing from Russia into Ukraine. And just two days ago, Al Jazeera’s Albina Kovalyova reported from Donetsk that she had seen “a military column travelling to Donetsk. There’s certainly a build-up, with daily sightings of military convoys and escalation of fighting.”
What’s more, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe reported the activity as well. OSCE representative Michael Bociurkiw warned that the conflict could escalate. “The level of violence in eastern Ukraine and the risk of further escalation remain high and are rising,” he said.
The Ukrainian army isn’t taking Russia’s advances lying down – as well they shouldn’t.
“The main task I see is to prepare for combat operations. We are doing this, we are readying our reserves,” Stepan Poltorak, Ukraine’s defense minister, said, adding that the situation in the conflict zone was “complicated but stable” for now.