DONALD TRUMP’S assertion that Russia “is not going to go into Ukraine” reminded us that very little reporting has been done in recent months about the state of the conflict in the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, which were first invaded by Russian forces in early 2014. That’s unfortunate, because while the West’s attention has been otherwise occupied this summer, Russia and its proxies have steadily escalated the fighting.
According to the United Nations, 20 civilians were killed and 122 injured in June and July, more than double the average monthly toll of the previous nine months. The Ukrainian army, for its part, reported at least 13 soldiers killed in July. Most of the deaths came in shelling attacks by heavy weapons, including artillery and Grad rockets, that were expressly prohibited by the two peace agreements Russia and Ukraine made. Apart from brief periods, the Russian side has never fully observed the cease-fire, according to reports by international monitors.
Meanwhile, military supplies continue to pour across Ukraine’s eastern border, parts of which Russia exclusively controls. According to statements by Ukrainian officials, at least 19 trains carrying military hardware crossed the border in July. On Aug. 2, authorities reported that 30 tanks, 11 armored vehicles and six Grad rocket systems had been shipped in during the previous week. This despite repeated Russian commitments to pull all such weapons back from the front lines and place them under monitoring.
It’s not clear how many Russian personnel are now operating inside Ukraine; in the past, estimates by NATO and other outside observers have ranged from several thousand to 10,000. Veteran analyst Paul Goble of the Jamestown Foundation reported in a recent blog post that “curators” dispatched by Vladimir Putin’s regime “are attached to military units, political organizations, newspapers and radio stations, as well as other distinct institutions.” They transmit orders from Moscow and control all government as well as military operations.
Ukrainian military intelligence has identified and publicly named dozens of Russian officers posted to the region. One who was captured on July 11, a platoon commander named Alexey Sedikov, said in a video posted to YouTube that Russians hold many key leadership positions, such as battalion commander and deputy chief of staff.
Not surprisingly, the Russian intervention in Ukraine resembles its operation in Syria in several key ways. Mr. Putin has employed subterfuge, deception and lies to cloud the operations and their aims. In negotiations and conferences with Western diplomats, his aides have repeatedly agreed to plans to end the fighting, while on the ground Russian forces have continued to shell and bomb.
The Obama administration’s reaction to all this has become painfully familiar. Secretary of State John F. Kerry brokers plans for cease-fires; when they are broken by Russia, he expresses outrage — then returns to Moscow to strike another deal. President Obama continues to insist, as he did this week, that the way to end the conflicts is to work with Russia. The possibility that Mr. Putin has no interest in and no intention of seriously cooperating with the United States in either Ukraine or Syria is one that Mr. Obama evidently finds it inconvenient to contemplate. Sadly, Mr. Trump is not the only one who denies the obvious.
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