We’ve all known for months that Putin has been support the pro-Russian separtists in Eastern Ukraine, despite his denials. They had weapons, funding and ground support that couldn’t have come from anywhere but Moscow, but there was never obvious and irrefutable evidence.
Today, Ukraine released video footage of what it said were 10 captured Russian soldiers. The men, under interrogation, identified themselves as Russian soldiers captured on Ukrainian territory. They gave their names and military serial numbers and said they had been sent to Ukraine by their superiors after initially being told they were going on a training exercise.
“Everything was a lie. There were no drills here,” one of the captured Russians, Sergey A. Smirnov, told a Ukrainian interrogator. According to the New York Times, Smirnov said he and other Russians from an airborne unit in Kostroma, in central Russia, had been sent on what was described initially as a military training exercise but later turned into a mission into Ukraine.
The footage was released as Putin and Poroshenko are set to meet in Belarus for the first time since June as well as Poroshenko’s announcement that the would be calling for a snap election on October 26th.
The video also comes on the heels of Ukraine’s accusation that Russia sent an armored column across the border.
US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt tweeted, “The new columns of Russian tanks and armor crossing into Ukraine indicates a Russian-directed counteroffensive may be underway. #escalation”
And Ukraine’s defense minister, Valeriy Geletey, said on his Facebook page, “Today Ukrainian armed forces captured many Russian soldiers. Officially, they are at exercises in various corners of Russia. In reality, they are participating in military aggression against Ukraine.”
Against this backdrop, Putin and Poroshenko’s meeting on the sidelines of the summit in Minsk is likely to be incredibly charged. Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said that the meeting between Putin and Poroshenko would probably touch on “the internal Ukrainian crisis”, as well as issues of Russian humanitarian aid, “to avoid unnecessary delays” in its delivery.
But with this new, irrefutable proof of Russian military presence within Ukraine, it’s doubtful that Poroshenko is going to have any time or patience for Putin’s protestations that the 280-truck convoy allegedly carrying humanitarian aid was sent with good intentions.
Indeed, analysts and German Chancellor Angela Merkel herself, have admitted that the meeting between the two leaders will not solve the crisis. It “certainly won’t result in the breakthrough” that Germany and others were hoping for, Merkel told a German newspaper.
At this point, it’s difficult to say what will result in the type of breakthrough Germany and the rest of the West has been hoping for since the illegal annexation of Crimea.
To be sure, we need to keep up the pressure on Russia. Even tougher sanctions are an integral part of that.
But we need to do more. Arming the Ukrainians who we now know are not engaged in just fighting with pro-Russian separatists, but with the Russians themselves is crucial.
This is a test of President Obama’s resolve in the Middle East and Ukraine. And this time there is no margin for error. We cannot fail. We cannot allow redlines to be crossed without taking concrete action. That much is certain.