April 1, 2021

Russian troops amassing near eastern Ukraine


The editorial in last week’s issue of The Ukrainian Weekly focused on the rising level of violence occurring in Donbas. We noted that, according to a March 20 report by Radio Svoboda, it appeared that the number of “separatist” forces near the occupied towns of Horlivka and Mospino, both in the Donetsk region, had increased recently. Sadly, new reports this past week indicate that the situation has not improved. In fact, the commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, Lt. Gen. Ruslan Khomchak, this week notified Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, that Russian troops were amassing near the country’s border in the “north, east and south,” including in occupied Crimea.
In response to Mr. Khomchak’s comments, during a conference call with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin placed the blame for the rising tensions on Ukraine.

“The Russian side expressed serious concern over the escalation of armed confrontation that is being provoked by Ukraine along the line of contact and its effective refusal to implement the agreements of July 2020 … to strengthen the cease-fire regime,” the Kremlin said in a statement released on March 30.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian military said that four of its soldiers were killed in shelling on March 26 that targeted Ukrainian military forces. In a statement released that same day, the Ukrainian military said that “the armed forces of the Russian Federation once again violated the cease-fire” of July 2020. The statement said that Ukrainian positions were targeted with “82-mm mortars, automatic grenade launchers and large-caliber machine guns prohibited by the Minsk agreements.” Those attacks occurred near Shumy, north of Donetsk. According to RFE/RL, 19 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed since the beginning of the year.

In the past week, and in response to the buildup of Russian forces near the Ukrainian border, the U.S. military’s European Command took the step of raising its watch level from possible crisis to potential imminent crisis – the highest level in its ranking system. Moreover, according to a March 30 report in The New York Times, “European monitors have spotted new weaponry on the Russian-backed side in recent weeks.”

Some military and foreign policy experts in Washington have said that Moscow could be testing the Biden administration’s commitment to Ukraine, while others have claimed Mr. Putin is merely rattling the proverbial saber. Whether or not this is the case, we urge those in the U.S. presidential administration and in Congress to consider what more proof they need of Mr. Putin’s malign intentions in Ukraine. Russia did in fact annex Crimea. Russian troops have in fact occupied Ukrainian territory and violated Ukraine’s sovereignty. Russia does in fact continue to violate the terms of the July 2020 ceasefire.

One might wonder whether this situation would have been different had Ukraine not agreed to destroy what was at the time the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world in exchange for guarantees from the signatories of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, among them the Russian Federation and the United States of America. Those guarantees included a stipulation “to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine,” which in fact has not occurred. We hope that officials in the U.S. might consider the message this sends to other countries in the world who are either stockpiling, building, or trying to develop their own nuclear weapons.