Last week, I had the pleasure of joining Maj. Gen. Gregory J. Lengyel, Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR), on his trip to Khmelnytskyi, where U.S. forces from the 10th Special Forces Group are training Ukrainian special operations forces as part of the Joint Multinational Training Group – Ukraine.
I welcomed the chance to hear from Deputy Minister of Defense Dolgov and Ukrainian Special Operations Forces Commander Major General Luniov on the status of Ukraine’s special operations reform efforts, and to witness first-hand the classroom and field training U.S. and Allied special operations forces are providing Ukrainian special forces to enhance Ukraine’s capability to defend itself in the face of relentless Russian aggression.
At Khmelnitsky, U.S. special operations forces are providing training on a wide array of military specialties — medical, marksmanship, construction and demolition, communications, and technology. I was incredibly impressed. Ukraine’s new special operations recruits show great promise, and include many brave soldiers who’ve already served in the ATO, including one of the Cyborgs who had helped defend the Donetsk Airport. I felt incredibly honored when he presented me with his unit patch.
Our training at Khmelnytskyi is taking place at the invitation of the Ukrainian government, and reflects the commitment of the United States to help Ukraine build a professional, NATO-standard fighting force. Since 2014, we have provided more than $266 million in equipment and training to help Ukrainian forces better monitor and secure their border, operate more safely and effectively, and defend their country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
What I saw on my trip reaffirmed my confidence that the Ukrainian military is committed to moving forward with the process of reform — moving toward European institutions, a NATO-standard military, a NATO-standard special forces capability. We’re very proud that the United States is part of that project.
I hope you’ll take a few minutes to watch some of my trip highlights here.
Mons, BELGIUM – NATO released new satellite images on Thursday, 28 August 2014, that show Russian combat forces engaged in military operations inside the sovereign territory of Ukraine. The images, captured in late August, depict Russian self-propelled artillery units moving in a convoy through the Ukrainian countryside and then preparing for action by establishing firing positions in the area of Krasnodon, Ukraine.
Dutch Brigadier General Nico Tak, director of the Comprehensive Crisis and Operations Management Centre (CCOMC), Allied Command Operations said the images confirmed what NATO and its Allies had been seeing for weeks from other sources.
“Over the past two weeks we have noted a significant escalation in both the level and sophistication of Russia’s military interference in Ukraine,” said Brigadier General Tak. “The satellite images released today provide additional evidence that Russian combat soldiers, equipped with sophisticated heavy weaponry, are operating inside Ukraine’s sovereign territory,” he said.
These latest images provide concrete examples of Russian activity inside Ukraine, but are only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the overall scope of Russian troop and weapons movements.
“We have also detected large quantities of advanced weapons, including air defence systems, artillery, tanks, and armoured personnel carriers being transferred to separatist forces in Eastern Ukraine,” said Brigadier General Tak. “The presence of these weapons along with substantial numbers of Russian combat troops inside Ukraine make the situation increasingly grave,” he said.
Also released were images showing substantial activity inside Russia in areas adjacent to the border with Ukraine. NATO believes this activity is being conducted in direct support to forces operating inside Ukraine, and is part of a highly coordinated and destabilising strategy.
“Russia is reinforcing and resupplying separatist forces in a blatant attempt to change the momentum of the fighting, which is currently favouring the Ukrainian military,” Brigadier General Tak said. “Russia’s ultimate aim is to alleviate pressure on separatist fighters in order to prolong this conflict indefinitely, which would result in further tragedy for the people of Eastern Ukraine,” he added.
The source of the images is an independent firm named Digital Globe. The images have not been altered or changed by NATO. Additional information has been added to identify locations, dates and equipment. DigitalGlobe images can be independently verified: http://www.digitalglobe.com
Release of Satellite Imagery – 28 August 2014
Image 1 shows Russian military units moving in a convoy formation with self-propelled artillery in the area of Krasnodon, Ukraine, well inside territory controlled by Russian separatists. The image was captured on 21 August 2014. There is confidence the equipment is Russian, since Ukrainian units have not yet penetrated this far into separatist controlled territory.
Image 2 shows Russian self-propelled artillery units set up in firing positions near Krasnodon, Ukraine. They are supported by logistical vehicles which are likely carrying extra ammunition and supplies. This configuration is exactly how trained military professionals would arrange their assets on the ground, indicating that these are not unskilled amateurs, but Russian soldiers. Russian artillery systems like these have recently shelled Ukrainian positions outside the city of Luhansk in conjunction with a separatist counteroffensive to attempt to break the Ukrainian siege of the city.
Image 3 includes two pictures (left and right) and shows a military deployment site on the Russian side of the border, near Rostov-on-Don. This location is approximately 31 miles or 50 kilometres from the Dovzhansky, Ukraine border crossing.
The image on the left was captured on 19 June 2014 and shows the area to be mostly empty at this time. The image on the right was taken two months later on 20 August 2014 and shows the same location. Russian main battle tanks, armored personnel carriers, cargo trucks and tented accommodations can all be clearly seen. This is one example of the multiple encampments that Russia has positioned near its border with Eastern Ukraine. Many of these forces are deployed within a few kilometers of Ukraine, and are capable of attacking with little warning, and could potentially overwhelm and push-back Ukrainian units. Russia has also moved significant numbers of combat aircraft and helicopters to airfields along the border. Russian unmanned aircraft routinely cross into Ukrainian airspace.
Some equipment from these locations is moved across the border and is used to resupply and equip separatist forces operating in Ukraine. For months, Russia has provided separatist fighters with heavy equipment in the form of tanks, armored vehicles, artillery, and multiple rocket launchers. Air defense systems have also been provided to separatists, even following the downing of Malaysian airlines flight MH17.
Image 4, captured on 23 July 2014, depicts what are probably six Russian 153mm 2S19 self-propelled guns located in Russia near Kuybyshevo. This site is situated 4 miles, or 6.5 kilometres, south of the Ukraine border, near the village of Chervonyi Zhovten. The guns are pointed north, directly towards Ukrainian territory (see North indicator on image). See image 5 for an overview of where these guns are situated in relation to Ukrainian territory.
Image 5 shows a wider overview including the position of the self-propelled guns from image 4. Note the North indicator on this image, and remember that the guns are orientated in this location. It is clear that from this location, it would be impossible NOT to fire into Ukrainian territory. This is clearly NOT an exercise; these guns are being used to support separatist forces operating in the territory of Ukraine.
The United States’ goal throughout the crisis in Ukraine has been to support a democratic Ukraine that is stable, unified, secure both politically and economically, and able to determine its own future. Therefore, we support ongoing dialogue among the foreign ministers from Ukraine, Germany, France, and Russia to work toward a sustainable ceasefire by all parties in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions in eastern Ukraine that would build toward a lasting peace. We should emphasize, however, that our ultimate goal is not just a temporary halt to violence. We want Russia to stop destabilizing Ukraine and occupying Crimea, a part of Ukraine’s territory, and allow all of the people of Ukraine to come together to make their own decisions about their country’s future through a democratic political process.
Ukrainian President Poroshenko has proposed a detailed peace plan that includes a promise of amnesty for separatists who laid down their arms voluntarily, and who are not guilty of capital crimes, decentralization of powers within Ukraine, and protection of the Russian language. He also implemented a unilateral ten-day ceasefire on June 20 to create room for a political solution, which unfortunately was not reciprocated by the separatists and their Russian backers.
While Russia says it seeks peace, its actions do not match its rhetoric. We have no evidence that Russia’s support for the separatists has ceased. In fact, we assess that Russia continues to provide them with heavy weapons, other military equipment and financing, and continues to allow militants to enter Ukraine freely. Russia denies this, just as it denied its forces were involved in Crimea — until after the fact. Russia has refused to call for the separatists to lay down their arms, and continues to mass its troops along the Ukrainian border. Many self-proclaimed “leaders” of the separatists hail from Russia and have ties to the Russian government. This all paints a telling picture of Russia’s continued policy of destabilization in eastern Ukraine.
Here are the facts:
Russia continues to accumulate significant amounts of equipment at a deployment site in southwest Russia. This equipment includes tanks of a type no longer used by the Russian military, as well as armored vehicles, multiple rocket launchers, artillery, and air defense systems. Russia has roughly doubled the number of tanks, armored vehicles, and rocket launchers at this site. More advanced air defense systems have also arrived at this site.
We are confident Moscow is mobilizing additional tanks that are no longer in the active Russian military inventory from a depot to send to this same deployment site.
We are concerned much of this equipment will be transferred to separatists, as we are confident Russia has already delivered tanks and multiple rocket launchers to them from this site.
Available information indicates Moscow has recently transferred some Soviet-era tanks and artillery to the separatists and that over the weekend several military vehicles crossed the border.
Social media videos of separatist military convoys suggest Russia in the past week alone has probably supplied the militants with at least two-dozen additional armored vehicles and artillery pieces and about as many military trucks.
Publicly available videos posted on July 14 of a Luhansk convoy on the road to Donetsk revealed at least five T-64 tanks, four BMP-2 armored personnel carriers (APC), BM-21 multiple rocket launchers, three towed antitank guns, two ZU 23-2 antiaircraft guns, and probably a 2B16 mortar.
A video of Krasnodon, near the Izvaryne border crossing, on 11 July showed two BTR armored personnel carriers, two antitank guns, and various trucks on a road heading in a westerly direction towards Donetsk.
A video filmed in Donetsk on 11 July showed a convoy of three BMD-2 APCs, two BMPs, one 2S9 self-propelled gun, and a BTR-60 APC.
In addition, after recapturing several Ukrainian cities last weekend, Ukrainian officials discovered caches of weapons that they assert came from Russia, including MANPADS, mines, grenades, MREs, vehicles, and a pontoon bridge.
Ukrainian forces have discovered large amounts of other Russian-provided military equipment, including accompanying documentation verifying the Russian origin of said equipment, in the areas they have liberated from the separatists.
Photographs of destroyed or disabled separatist equipment in eastern Ukraine have corroborated that some of this equipment is coming from Russia.
Recruiting efforts for separatist fighters are expanding inside Russia and separatists are looking for volunteers with experience operating heavy weapons such as tanks and air defenses. Russia has allowed officials from the “Donetsk Peoples’ Republic” to establish a recruiting office in Moscow.
Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko, who has long had a distinguished career in the Ukrainian military, was taken by separatists in mid-June. She is now being held in a prison in Voronezh, Russia. According to the Ukrainian government, she was transferred to Russia by separatists.
Separately Russia continues to redeploy new forces extremely close to the Ukrainian border. We have information that a significant number of additional military units are also in the process of deploying to the border.
Ukraine’s Good-Faith Efforts: In a bid to unify the country, President Poroshenko outlined a comprehensive peace plan on June 7. President Poroshenko’s plan offers amnesty to separatists who lay down their arms voluntarily, and who are not guilty of capital crimes; commits to providing a safe corridor for Russian fighters to return to Russia; establishes a job creation program for the affected areas; includes an offer of broad decentralization and dialogue with eastern regions, including the promise of early local elections; and grants increased local control over language, holidays, and customs. President Poroshenko also has reached out to the residents of eastern Ukraine and is pursuing constitutional reform which will give local regions more authority to choose their regional leaders and protect locally-spoken languages.
President Poroshenko implemented a unilateral seven-day (later extended to ten days) unilateral ceasefire on June 20. He also proposed meeting with leaders from eastern Ukraine — including separatists — despite their stated unwillingness to abide by the cease-fire or to negotiate.
Yet Russia and its proxies in Donetsk and Luhansk did not act on this opportunity for peace. Hours after the ceasefire began, Russia-backed separatists wounded nine Ukrainian service members. During the course of the ten-day ceasefire, Russia-backed separatists attacked Ukrainian security forces over 100 times, killing 28 service members. The separatists continue to hold more than 150 hostages, mostly civilians, including teachers and journalists. Separatists have refused all offers by the Ukrainian government to meet.
This timeline of events leading to, during, and after the unilateral Ukraine ceasefire illustrates how the good-faith efforts of the Ukraine government and European leaders to broker a ceasefire with Russia and the separatists it backs have been rejected. Russia and the separatists they are supporting continued to destabilize Ukraine throughout the ceasefire, and continue to destabilize Ukraine today.
May 25: Petro Poroshenko, who had campaigned on a platform stressing reconciliation with the east and Russia, is elected by an absolute majority of voters in Ukraine.
June 8-17: President Poroshenko hosts five rounds of contact group talks, facilitated by the OSCE envoy, in the lead-up to his announcement of a ceasefire.
June 12: Poroshenko initiates a call to President Putin to open communication.
June 14: EU-brokered gas talks end with a final EU brokered proposal: Ukraine accepts the proposal, but Russia rejected it.
June 19: Poroshenko meets with eastern Ukrainian leaders, including separatists, in Kyiv.
June 20: Poroshenko implements a seven-day unilateral ceasefire. Hours later, nine Ukrainian service members are wounded by pro-Russian separatists, foreshadowing separatists’ 100 plus violent actions over the next 10 days.
June 23: The contact group meets in Donetsk.
June 25: NATO Secretary General Rasmussen notes that there are “no signs” of Russia respecting its international commitments with regard to Ukraine.
June 27: Ukraine provides constitutional reform provisions to the Venice Commission for review. This reform would allow for the direct election of governors and for local authorities to confer special status on minority languages within their regions.
June 27: Poroshenko extends the unilateral ceasefire another 72 hours to allow another chance for OSCE contact group negotiations to show progress.
June 28: Ukraine shoots down two Russian UAVs violating Ukraine’s airspace in the Luhansk region.
June 30: Due to the separatists’ refusal to abandon violence in favor of negotiation, President Poroshenko allows the cease-fire to expire.
July 3: President Poroshenko in a telephone conversation with U.S. Vice President Biden reaffirms that he is ready to begin political negotiations to resolve the situation in Donetsk and Luhansk regions without any additional conditions.
July 8: President Petro Poroshenko visits the former rebel stronghold of Slovyansk to meet with local residents after government forces recapture it from pro-Russian separatists.
July 9: Ukraine restores electricity and train service to Slovyansk, and Ukrainian security forces distribute food, drinking water, and humanitarian aid to the population.
July 11: The Ukrainian government establishes an inter-agency task force in Slovyansk that is conducting damage, security, and humanitarian needs assessments.
July 11: The Ukrainian government reports that it delivered over 60 tons of humanitarian aid supplies in Donetsk Oblast over the preceding 24 hours, bringing the five-day total to 158 tons. President Poroshenko announces that Ukrainian security forces had successfully cleared nearly 100 mines and roadside bombs from liberated territory.
As General Philip Breedlove, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander for Europe, stated on July 1: “The cease fire in Ukraine was not ended because of accusations; it was ended because Russian-backed separatists responded with violence while President Poroshenko tried to open a window for peace. Russia’s commitment to peace will be judged by its actions, not its words.” As the United States and our European allies have repeatedly stated, we call on the Russian government to halt its material support for the separatists, to use its influence with the separatists to push them to lay down their arms and abide by a ceasefire and to release all hostages. Only then can the process of bringing peace to Ukraine truly begin.
If you have been following events unfolding in Ukraine you may have noted various claims regarding the identity and origins of the armed groups currently contributing to the unrest in Crimea. Headlines are reporting that heavily armed soldiers have surrounded Ukraine’s military bases in Crimea and have taken control of 11 border posts in the region. Clearly, the situation is serious. But who are these armed soldiers, and who has given them orders?
Many media outlets have reported claims that these troops are “local militias” who are wearing Russian-style fatigues because such attire is available in army shops across the former Soviet Union. Other outlets are repeating an assertion that armed men deployed to Ukraine’s Crimea region are simply ”self-defense forces.”
I would like to address these claims.
Here at NATO’s military headquarters we have been closely monitoring and analyzing the situation in Ukraine and have been keenly focused on these troops. After extensive review of multiple information sources we believe these are Russian military forces acting on clear orders to undermine Ukraine forces in Crimea.
This conclusion, although hastily stated by some members of the press, is based on deliberate and painstaking scrutiny of the many sources of data available to our professional military analysts. As we move forward and continue to closely monitor the situation in Ukraine, it will be with the understanding of the real identity of these forces.
The photos below are just a few examples openly available that help paint the picture.
The following several photos show military vehicles that are currently operating in Crimea. Note the Russian military licence plates on the vehicles.
The first picture is from the Crimean town of Balaklava.
This example is from YouTube
In this video, local journalists interviewed a soldier who admitted he was part of the Russian military. When asked why he didn’t have any insignias or symbols on his uniform, he responded that he was told not to wear them.
This story is part of a series of blog entries to mark the 20th anniversary of the Future Leaders Exchange program (FLEX) in Ukraine. FLEX is the U.S. Government’s premier high school exchange program. For more information about U.S. exchanges please click here.
You can’t imagine the amazing impressions I received while living in the US and having the opportunity to finish school there. To a kid from a provincial town in Northern Ukraine, this was something I could not let slip out of my hands. As part of the FLEX program, I was enrolled at Enka High School in Albany, NC. Studying abroad helped me mature emotionally, spiritually and gain a wide view of the world. The life there made me completely rethink my understanding of life and the world as I know it. It was a major event that significantly added friendships and partnerships that are on a long way to prospering in the future.
I am an honors student and intellectual show winner. I have participated in NATO academies and was a state-level delegate to the NATO headquarters. I was a Global Security conference attendee. These achievements were possible thanks to the foreign exchange program. I would have been an entirely different person had I not participated in it.
My most sincere gratitude goes to this unmatched exchange for giving me such an opportunity to compete with kids of my age from across the globe and show myself to others. This has been a memorable experience. I thank all the people that helped me out while I was in the US and hope to see other students from Ukraine tackle this unique challenge.
The NATO Lisbon Summit this past weekend is of major significance for all countries of Europe including Ukraine. Major decisions were reached regarding European missile defense, NATO’s new strategic concept and NATO’s commitment to assist Afghanistan. The key documents are posted on our Embassy website and merit a close reading.
For many years I have been an active participant in my country’s relations with Eastern Europe, beginning with my days on the State Department’s Soviet desk, and through my tour as Deputy Chief of Mission in Moscow and my time as US Ambassador to Lithuania, Georgia and now Ukraine. So I have watched with interest the last few days as President Obama joined European leaders in Lisbon for the historic NATO Summit, followed by a U.S.-EU Summit. Continue reading “Successful NATO Summit Increases Potential for Cooperation With Eastern Neighbors”→