Some very ominous signs are being reported by The Daily Beast’s James Miller of Russian military moves on the border with Ukraine. Where Vladimir Putin had actually pulled back at least some of his forces from the border last month, Miller reports that Russian armor has been geolocated within 2,000 meters of the border, with “columns of tanks” moving toward a key border crossing.
Helicopters holding ground fire exercises, BUK anti-aircraft systems moving toward the border — all these signs point to…what?
Miller is managing editor of The Interpreter, a site that translates Russian news and blogs, so I don’t know his qualifications to comment on a military buildup like this. But you didn’t have to attend the Army War College to put two and two together and realize that the Russian military certainly has all it needs positioned very close to the border to carry out an invasion of Ukraine.
Right now Russia is moving troops, armor, and advanced antiaircraft missiles toward the border with Ukraine. In the last 48 hours, dozens of videos have been uploaded to social-media sites that show Russian armor very close to the border, many of them confirmed to be within mere kilometers of Ukraine.
On Thursday, my team at The Interpreterdefinitively geolocated Russian armor only 2,000 meters (and closing) from the border and a Buk, the same type of missile that likely took down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, only a few hours from being within range of Ukraine’s air force. Columns of tanks, marked with the same painted numbers and flat, pale-green paint we’ve seen in Ukraine since (at least) June 20th, were spotted moving en masse toward a key border crossing. Some Ukrainian journalists are reporting that at least some of this armor has already crossed the border.
Russia’s helicopters held ground-fire exercises Friday on the border between Russia’s Rostov region and Ukraine’s Donetsk region. The head of Russia’s airborne units, which played a critical role in the conquering of Crimea, has pledged to expand operations beyond the boundaries of Russia (tanks marked with the insignia of Russian Airborne forces were captured by Ukrainian troops just yesterday). The Ukrainian government now says that its military has detected even more advanced antiaircraft batteries lined up on its border.
There is now significant evidence that Russia is openly supporting the separatists militarily and many experts now believe that Russia could invade and beat back the Ukrainian anti-terror operation.
An open war between Ukraine and Russia may have already begun. In the last 24 hours, there are reports of cross-border shelling in new locations and 17 new Grad rocket batteries digging in on the Russian side of the border, but within range of the Ukrainian military’s front lines. This is even more concerning when it is put into context. In the last two days, two different Ukrainian military convoys have been destroyed by Grad rockets south of the MH17 crash site, in Shakhtyorsk and near Torez. Russian paratroopers have even taken pictures with the bodies of the Ukrainian soldiers and have posted them to social networks (this isn’t the only time Russian soldiers have posted pictures from inside Ukraine, which has caused the Russian government to discuss banning their soldiers from posting to social media).
More saber rattling from Putin? The Russian president should realize by now that the most recent bout of sanctions against Moscow is probably the worst that western Europe can impose without damaging their own economies. An invasion would bring other costs, but how much worse can it get for Russia? No one is going to war to save the Kiev government, the US is a non-factor, and is it really a deterrent to war that FIFA would pull the 2018 World Cup soccer tournament from Russia?
Miller does not make the most convincing argument that war is imminent. Indeed, the article may be little more than anti-Russian propaganda. Still, other news outlets have reported on Russian troop movements and the Pentagon is worried about the shelling from Russia into the Ukraine. The social media videos and photos are real enough. The bottom line: Speculation about a Russian invasion is justified and more than propaganda.
But if this is just one more gambit in a long line of psychological ploys by Putin to rattle Kiev — and Washington — he’s making a damn fine show of it.