Russian military intervention in Ukraine (2014–present)

This article is about Russian military invasion in post-Euromaidan Ukraine. For Russian annexation of Crimea, see Annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation. For the unrest in eastern Ukraine, see 2014 pro-Russian unrest in Ukraine. For the ongoing military conflict in Donbass, see War in Donbass.
Russian military intervention in Ukraine (2014–present)
Part of the Ukrainian crisis and
the War in Donbass

Pink in the Donbass area represents areas currently held by the DPR/LPR insurgents (cities in red). Crimea, which is under Russian control, is also shown in pink/red. Yellow represents areas under the control of Ukrainian government (cities in blue).
(Image last updated on: 11 September 2014.)
Date20 February 2014 ongoing
(2 years, 9 months, 1 week and 2 days)



In Crimea:
 Republic of Crimea  Sevastopol
In Donbass:
 Donetsk People's Republic

 Lugansk People's Republic
Ukraine Ukraine[23]
Commanders and leaders
Russia Vladimir Putin
Russia Sergey Shoygu
Russia Valery Gerasimov
Russia Igor Sergun
Russia Aleksandr Vitko
Russia Denis Berezovsky
Russia Alexander Lentsov[24]
Republic of Crimea Sergey Aksyonov
Donetsk People's Republic Alexander Zakharchenko
Luhansk People's Republic Igor Plotnitsky
Ukraine Petro Poroshenko
Ukraine Ihor Tenyukh
Ukraine Mykhailo Kutsyn
Ukraine Serhiy Hayduk
Units involved

Russian Armed Forces:[25][26]


Armed Forces of Ukraine:

Internal Affairs Ministry:

Security Service

  • SBU Alpha Group
Crimean Force:
Black Sea Fleet:
11,000 (including Marines)
30 + Warships
(incl. submarine)
4 Squadrons of fighter aircraft
(18 planes each)
Reinforcements: 16,000[40][41][42][43]–42,000[44]
In Donbass:
7,500+ Russian infantry
Armed Forces of Ukraine: +232,000
Casualties and losses
400–500 Russian soldiers killed (acc. U.S. DoS),[48] 12 captured[49]
Unknown number of Donbass separatists killed
1 Crimean SDF trooper killed[50]
2,423 killed,[51]
6,820 wounded,[52]
378 missing,[53]
2,768 captured[54][55][56]
Over 8,000 killed overall[57]
(including 304 foreign civilians)[58][59][60][61]

In 2014, Russia made several military incursions into Ukrainian territory. After Euromaidan protests and the fall of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, Russian soldiers without insignias took control of strategic positions and infrastructure within the Ukrainian territory of Crimea. Russia then annexed Crimea after a disputed referendum in which Crimeans voted to join the Russian Federation.[6][62][63][64][65] Subsequently, demonstrations by pro-Russian groups in the Donbass area of Ukraine escalated into an armed conflict between the Ukrainian government and separatist forces of the self-declared Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics. In August, Russian military vehicles crossed the border in several locations of Donetsk Oblast[31][66][67][68][69][70] The incursion by the Russian military was seen as responsible for the defeat of Ukrainian forces in early September.[71][72]

In November 2014, the Ukrainian military reported intensive movement of troops and equipment from Russia into the separatist controlled parts of eastern Ukraine.[73] The Associated Press reported 80 unmarked military vehicles on the move in rebel-controlled areas.[74] An OSCE Special Monitoring Mission observed convoys of heavy weapons and tanks in DPR-controlled territory without insignia.[75] OSCE monitors further stated they observed vehicles transporting ammunition and soldiers' dead bodies crossing the Russian-Ukrainian border under the guise of humanitarian aid convoys.[76] As of early August 2015, OSCE observed over 21 such vehicles marked with the Russian military code for soldiers killed in action.[77] According to The Moscow Times, Russia has tried to intimidate and silence human rights workers discussing Russian soldiers' deaths in the conflict.[78] OSCE repeatedly reported that its observers were denied access to the areas controlled by "combined Russian-separatist forces".[79]

The majority of members of the international community and organizations such as Amnesty International have condemned Russia for its actions in post-revolutionary Ukraine, accusing it of breaking international law and violating Ukrainian sovereignty. Many countries implemented economic sanctions against Russia, Russian individuals or companies  to which Russia responded in kind.

In October 2015, The Washington Post reported that Russia has redeployed some of its elite units from Ukraine to Syria in recent weeks to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.[80] In December 2015, Putin admitted that Russian military intelligence officers were operating in Ukraine.[81]


Despite being an independent country since 1991, Ukraine has been perceived as being part of its sphere of interest by Russia. In regard to Ukraine, Russia pursues a modernized version of the Brezhnev Doctrine on "limited sovereignty", which dictates that the sovereignty of Ukraine cannot be larger than that of the Warsaw Pact prior to the demise of the Soviet sphere of influence.[82]

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, both nations retained very close ties. However, conflict began almost immediately. There were several sticking points, most importantly Ukraine's significant nuclear arsenal, which Ukraine agreed to abandon in the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances on the condition that Russia (and the other signatories) would issue an assurance against threats or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine. In 1999, Russia was one of signatories of Charter for European Security, where it "reaffirmed the inherent right of each and every participating State to be free to choose or change its security arrangements, including treaties of alliance, as they evolve",[83] both would prove worthless in 2014.[84]

A second point was the division of the Black Sea Fleet. Ukraine agreed to lease the Sevastopol port so that the Russian Black Sea fleet could continue to occupy it together with Ukraine. Starting in 1993, through the 1990s and 2000s, Ukraine and Russia engaged in several gas disputes. In 2001, Ukraine, along with Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Moldova, formed a group called GUAM Organization for Democracy and Economic Development, which was seen by Russia as a direct challenge to the CIS, the Russian-dominated trade group established after the collapse of the Soviet Union.[85] Russia was further irritated by the Orange Revolution of 2004, which saw the Ukrainian populist Viktor Yushchenko elected president instead of the pro-Russian[86] Viktor Yanukovich. Moreover, Ukraine continued to increase its cooperation with NATO, deploying the third-largest contingent of troops to Iraq in 2004, as well as dedicating peacekeepers to NATO missions such as the ISAF force in Afghanistan and KFOR in Kosovo.

A pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovich, was elected in 2010 and Russia felt that many ties with Ukraine could be repaired. Prior to this, Ukraine had not renewed the lease of Black Sea Naval base at Sevastopol, meaning that Russian troops would have to leave Crimea by 2017. However, Yanukovich signed a new lease and expanded allowable troop presence as well as allowing troops to train in the Kerch peninsula.[87] Many in Ukraine viewed the extension as unconstitutional because Ukraine's constitution states that no permanent foreign troops shall be stationed in Ukraine after the Sevastopol treaty expired. Yulia Tymoshenko, the main opposition figure of Yanukovich, was jailed on what many considered trumped up charges, leading to further dissatisfaction with the government. In November 2013, Viktor Yanukovich declined to sign an association agreement with the European Union, a treaty that had been in development for several years and one that Yanukovich had earlier approved of.[88] Yanukovich instead favored closer ties with Russia.

In autumn 2013, Russia warned Ukraine that if it went ahead with a planned agreement on free trade with the EU, it would face financial catastrophe and possibly the collapse of the state. Sergey Glazyev, adviser to President Vladimir Putin, said that, "Ukrainian authorities make a huge mistake if they think that the Russian reaction will become neutral in a few years from now. This will not happen." Russia had already imposed import restrictions on certain Ukrainian products and Glazyev did not rule out further sanctions if the agreement was signed. Glazyev allowed for the possibility of separatist movements springing up in the Russian-speaking east and south of Ukraine. He suggested that, contrary to international law, if Ukraine signed the agreement, Russia would consider the bilateral treaty that delineates the countries' borders to be void. Russia would no longer guarantee Ukraine's status as a state and could possibly intervene if pro-Russian regions of the country appealed directly to Russia.[89]

Euromaidan and Anti-Maidan

Following months of protests as part of the Euromaidan movement, on 22 February 2014, protesters ousted the government of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, who had been democratically elected in 2010.[90] The protesters took control of government buildings in the capital city of Kiev, along with the city itself. As the police abandoned their posts across the capital Kiev and the opposition established control over key intersections and the parliament, President Yanukovych fled Kiev for Kharkiv in the east of Ukraine, where he traditionally has had more support.[91] After this incident, the Ukrainian parliament voted to restore the 2004 Constitution of Ukraine[92] and remove Yanukovych from power.[93][94] A vote on the resolution that stated that Yanukovych "is removing himself [from power] because he is not fulfilling his obligations"[91] emerged 328–0 in support. The vote was 10 short of three-quarters of the Parliament members, the requirement of the Constitution of Ukraine for impeachment. Yanukovych stated that the vote was unconstitutional because of this issue,[lower-alpha 1][93][95][96] and refused to resign. Politicians from the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine, including Crimea, declared continuing loyalty to Yanukovych.[94]

One of the first issues the parliament approached was that of the language, annulling a bill that provided for Russian to be used as a second official government language in regions with large Russian-speaking populations.[97] The parliament adopted a bill to repeal the 2012 law on minority languages, which protected the status of languages other than Ukrainian. The proposal alienated many in the Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine and[98] a few days later, on 1 March, acting President Oleksandr Turchynov vetoed the bill, effectively stopping its enactment.[99]

In the meantime, on the morning of 27 February, Berkut special police units from Crimea and other regions of Ukraine, which had been dissolved on 25 February, seized checkpoints on the Isthmus of Perekop and Chonhar peninsula.[10][11] According to Ukrainian MP Hennadiy Moskal, former chief of the Crimean police, these Berkut had armoured personnel carriers, grenade launchers, assault rifles, machine guns, and other weapons.[11] Since then, they have controlled all land traffic between Crimea and continental Ukraine.[11]

Russian political actions

In August 2016 the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) published telephone intercepts from 2014 of Sergey Glazyev (Russian presidential adviser), Konstantin Zatulin, and other people where they discussed covert funding of pro-Russian activists in Eastern Ukraine, occupation of administration buildings and other actions that in due course led to the armed conflict.[100] Glazyev confirmed the authenticity of the intercepts but said they were taken out of context.[101] As early as February 2014 Glazyev was giving direct instructions to various pro-Russian parties in Ukraine to instigate unrest in Donetsk, Kharkiv, Zaporizhia, and Odessa.[102][103]

Konstantin Zatulin:… That’s the main story. I want to say about other regions – we have financed Kharkiv, financed Odesa. Sergey Glazyev: Look, the situation in the process. Kharkiv Regional State Administration has been already stormed, in Donetsk the Regional State Administration has been stormed. It is necessary to storm Regional State Administration and gather regional deputies there! Sergey Glazyev: It is very important that people appeal to Putin. Mass appeals directly to him with a request to protect, an appeal to Russia, etc. This appeal has been already in your meeting. Denis Yatsyuk: So we after storming building of Regional State Administration we gather a session of the Regional State Administration, right? We invite MPs and force them to vote?
Sergey Glazyev, "English translation of audio evidence of Putin`s Adviser Glazyev and other Russian politicians involvement in war in Ukraine",

On 4 March 2014, Russian permanent representative to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin presented a photocopy of a letter signed by Victor Yanukovich on 1 March 2014 asking that Russian president Vladimir Putin use Russian armed forces to "restore the rule of law, peace, order, stability and protection of the population of Ukraine".[104] Both houses of the Russian parliament voted on 1 March to give President Putin the right to use Russian troops in Crimea.[105][106] On 24 June Vladimir Putin asked Russian parliament to cancel resolution on use of Russian forces in Ukraine.[107] The next day the Federation Council voted to repeal its previous decision, making it illegal to use the Russian organized military forces in Ukraine.[108]


Unidentified gunmen on patrol at Simferopol International Airport, 28 February 2014
Medal "For return of Crimea" (20 February 2014 – 18 March 2014) by the Ministry of Defense of Russia issued before the start of planned military intervantion

Days after Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich fled the capital of Kiev in late February 2014, armed men opposed to the Euromaidan movement began to take control of the Crimean Peninsula.[109] Checkpoints were established by unmarked Russian[110] soldiers with green military-grade uniforms and equipment in the capital of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, Simferopol, and the independently-administered port-city of Sevastopol, home to a Russian naval base under the Kharkiv Pact of 2010.[111][112][113] The local population and the media referred to these men as "little green men".[114] After the occupation of the Crimean parliament by these unmarked troops, believed to be Russian special forces,[115][116][117][118] the Crimean leadership announced it would hold a referendum on secession from Ukraine.[119] This heavily disputed referendum[62] was followed by the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation in mid-March. Ukraine and most of the international community refused to recognize the referendum or the annexation.[120] On 15 April, the Ukrainian parliament declared Crimea a territory temporarily occupied by Russia.[121] Since annexing Crimea, the Russian government increased its military presence in the region, with Russian president Vladimir Putin saying a Russian military task force would be established there.[122] In December 2014 Ukrainian Border Guard Service announced Russian troops began withdrawing from the areas of Kherson Oblast. Russian troops occupied parts of the Arabat Spit and the islands around the Syvash which are geographically parts of Crimea but are administratively part of Kherson Oblast. One of such villages occupied by Russian troops was Strilkove, Henichesk Raion, located on the Arabat Spit, which housed an important gas distribution centre. Russian forces stated they took over the gas distribution center to prevent terrorist attacks. Russian forces withdrew from southern Kherson and continued to occupy the gas distribution center outside Strilkove. The withdrawal from Kherson ended nearly 10 months of Russian occupation of the region. Ukraine's border guards stated the areas that were under Russian occupation will have to be checked for mines prior to them overtaking these positions.[123][124]

In November, NATO stated that it believed Russia was deploying nuclear-capable weapons to Crimea.[125]

Andrey Illarionov, former advisor of Vladimir Putin, said in a speech on 31 May 2014 that some technologies of Russo-Georgian War, were updated and again being exploited in Ukraine. According to him, since Russian military operation in Crimea began on 20 February 2014, Russian propaganda could not argue that the Russian aggression was the result of Euromaidan. The war in Ukraine did not happen "all of sudden", but was pre-planned and the preparations began as early as 2003.[126] Illarionov later stated that one of the Russian plans envisaged war with Ukraine in 2015 after a presidential election, however Maidan accelerated the confrontation.[127]

Renewed conflict (2016)

On August 8, 2016 Ukraine reported that Russia had increased its military presence along the demarcation line. Border crossings were then closed.[128] On August 10, Russia claimed two servicemen were killed and 10 injured in clashes with Ukrainian commandos in Armyansk on August 7,[129][130] and that Ukrainian operatives had been captured. Russian media reported that one of the killed soldiers was a commander of the Russian GRU, and later was buried in Simferopol.[131] Ukraine denied that the incident took place,[132] and parallel to the incident on August 9 a Ukrainian officials claimed that a number of Russian soldiers had deserted but had not entered into Ukraine,[133] and that skirmishes broke out between Russian intelligence officers and border guards.[134] Russian President Putin accused Ukraine of turning to the "practice of terrorism".[135] Ukrainian President Poroshenko called the Russian version of events "equally cynical and insane".[136] The U.S. denied Russia's claims, with its ambassador to Ukraine stating "The U.S. Government has seen nothing so far that corroborates Russian allegations of a "Crimea incursion".[137]

Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko warned that Russia was preparing for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, something that Europe is too weak to prevent it from doing.[138]


The war in Donbass is an armed conflict in the Donbass region of Ukraine. From the beginning of March 2014, demonstrations by pro-Russian and anti-government groups took place in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of Ukraine, together commonly called the "Donbass", in the aftermath of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution and the Euromaidan movement. These demonstrations, which followed the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, and which were part of a wider group of concurrent pro-Russian protests across southern and eastern Ukraine, escalated into an armed conflict between the separatist forces of the self-declared Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics (DPR and LPR respectively), and the Ukrainian government.[139][140] Prior to a change of the top leadership in August,[141] the separatists were largely led by Russian citizens.[142] The SBU claimed key commanders of the rebel movement during this time, including Igor Strelkov and Igor Bezler were Russian agents.[143][144] Russian paramilitaries are reported to make up from 15% to 80% of the combatants.[142][145][146][147][148]

March–July 2014

At the beginning of the war, the prime ministers of Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk were Russian citizens; they were succeeded by Ukrainian citizens by August.[149] Many of the separatist fighters are Russian citizens, with many claimed to be former military personnel.[150][151] The SBU claims key commanders of the rebel movement during this time, including Igor Strelkov and Igor Bezler, are Russian agents.[143][144] American and Ukrainian officials said they had evidence of Russian interference in Ukraine, including intercepted communications between Russian officials and Donbass insurgents.[152][153]

Separatist leaders such as Aleksey Mozgovoy visited Moscow and were evasive about who was supplying their weapons.[154] There is also evidence that indicates the Buk missile system, widely believed to have been used to shoot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on 17 July, came from Russia.[155][156]

A significant number of Russian citizens, many veterans or ultranationalists, are currently involved in the ongoing armed conflict, a fact acknowledged by separatist leaders. Carol Saivets, Russian specialist for the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, described the role of Russian soldiers as 'almost certainly' proceeding with the blessing and backing of the Russian state, "even if the Russians are indeed volunteers rather than serving military men".[4] Recruitment for the Donbass insurgents was performed openly in Russian cities using private or voyenkomat facilities, as was confirmed by a number of Russian media.[150][157]

In an interview with French television channel TF1 and Radio Europe1, Russian president Vladimir Putin said: "There are no armed forces, no 'Russian instructors' in Ukraine—and there never were any."[158]

Ukrainian media have described the well-organised and well-armed pro-Russian militants as similar to those which occupied regions of Crimea during the Crimean crisis.[159][160] The former deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Admiral Ihor Kabanenko, said that the militants are Russian military reconnaissance and sabotage units.[161] Arsen Avakov stated that the militants in Krasnyi Lyman used Russian-made AK-100 series assault rifles fitted with grenade launchers, and that such weapons are only issued in the Russian Federation. "The Government of Ukraine is considering the facts of today as a manifestation of external aggression by Russia," said Avakov.[162] Militants in Sloviansk arrived in military lorries without license plates.[163] A reporter from Russia's Novaya Gazeta, having visited separatist artillery positions in Avdeyevka, wrote that in his opinion "it's impossible that the cannons are handled by volunteers" as they require a trained and experienced team, including observers and adjustment experts.[164]

In April 2014, a US State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said, "there has been broad unity in the international community about the connection between Russia and some of the armed militants in eastern Ukraine".[165] The Ukrainian government released photos of soldiers in eastern Ukraine, which the US State Department said showed that some of the fighters were Russian special forces.[116][166] US Secretary of State John Kerry said the militants "were equipped with specialized Russian weapons and the same uniforms as those worn by the Russian forces that invaded Crimea."[167] The US ambassador to the United Nations said the attacks in Sloviansk were "professional," "coordinated," and that there was 'nothing grass-roots seeming about it'.[168] The British foreign secretary, William Hague, stated, "I don't think denials of Russian involvement have a shred of credibility, [...] The forces involved are well armed, well trained, well equipped, well co-ordinated, behaving in exactly the same way as what turned out to be Russian forces behaved in Crimea."[169] The commander of NATO operations in Europe, Philip M. Breedlove, assessed that soldiers appeared to be highly trained and not a spontaneously formed local militia, and that "what is happening in eastern Ukraine is a military operation that is well planned and organized and we assess that it is being carried out at the direction of Russia."[170]

Pro-Russian protesters in Donetsk, 9 March 2014

A Russian opposition politician, Ilya Ponomarev, said "I am absolutely confident that in the eastern regions of Ukraine there are Russian troops in very small amounts. And it's not regular soldiers, but likely representatives of special forces and military intelligence."[171] Later in July, after the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, he said that "Putin now understands that he has passed weapons to the wrong people". He also said that even if Moscow stopped the supply of weapons to the Donbass, there would still be enough supporters of the war in the Russian military to continue such shipments unofficially.[172]

Klaus Zillikens, head of the OSCE mission in Donetsk, said that the mission had detected signs of "foreign agents" operating in Ukraine, but thus far there was no evidence to confirm that.[173] According to Georgij Alafuzoff, the Director of Intelligence at the European Union Military Staff, even if the Russian military had a presence in Ukraine, it was not as large as it was in Crimea. He believed that the militants were mostly local citizens, disappointed by the situation in the country.[174] Nick Paton Walsh, reporting from Donetsk for CNN, stated that the physical appearance of the militants is different from that of the unidentified troops, spotted throughout Crimea while it was in the process of secession.[175]

David Patrikarakos, a correspondent for the New Statesman said the following: "While at the other protests/occupations there were armed men and lots of ordinary people, here it almost universally armed and masked men in full military dress. Automatic weapons are everywhere. Clearly a professional military is here. There's the usual smattering of local militia with bats and sticks but also a military presence. Of that there is no doubt."[176] Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former American National Security Advisor, said that the events in the Donbass were similar to events in Crimea, which led to its annexation by Russia, and noted that Russia acted similarly.[177]

The New York Times journalists interviewed Sloviansk militants and found no clear link of Russian support: "There was no clear Russian link in the 12th Company’s arsenal, but it was not possible to confirm the rebels’ descriptions of the sources of their money and equipment."[178] Commenting on the presence of the Vostok Battalion within insurgent ranks, Denis Pushilin said on 30 May, "It's simply that there were no volunteers [from Russia] before, and now they have begun to arrive – and not only from Russia."[179] Stephen Ennis wrote in his BBC news blog that, on the Ukrainian state television talk-show Shuster Live on 13 June 2014, the British journalist Mark Franchetti, who had just spent weeks with the Vostok Battalion, described the Battalion as largely untrained locals from eastern Ukraine, with a smattering of Russian volunteers. He also stated that the fighters in the Battalion who were now in the Donbass were "mainly normal, ordinary citizens who are absolutely convinced they are defending their homes – as they put it – against fascism". Franchetti stressed that he was not saying that there were no Russian troops operating in Ukraine, but that he did not come across any himself. He stated "I can only speak about what I saw with my own eyes".[180]

At a meeting held on 7 July, in the city of Donetsk, Russian politician Sergey Kurginyan held a press conference with representatives of the Donbass People's Militia, including Pavel Gubarev, and said that Russia did provide significant military support for the separatists. During a discussion among the participants, Gubarev complained that the arms that had been sent were old, and not fully functional. In response, Kurginyan listed specific items, including 12,000 automatic rifles, grenade launchers, 2S9 Nona self-propelled mortars, two BMPs, and three tanks, that he knew had been supplied to the separatists by Russia. He also said he saw new, fully functional weapons unloaded at locations in Donbass which he would not "disclose as we are filmed by cameras". Kurginyan admitted that Russia had initially sent "4th category weapons", but since 3 June had supplied equipment that was fully functional. He also said one of his goals whilst in Donetsk was to ensure that military support from Russia was increased.[181][182][183][184][185]

An An-26 military cargo plane was shot down over the Ukrainian village of Davydo Myilske near the Russian border on 14 July. It had been flying at an altitude of 6,500 metres. The head of Ukraine's Security Service Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, stated on 15 July that the SBU had "indisputable" evidence of Russian involvement in the attack.[186] On 24 July, a week after the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, over an area of Ukraine controlled by pro-Russia separatists,[187] most likely by pro-Russian forces,[188][189] the American government stated that it had evidence that the Russian military was firing on Ukrainian territory from across the border. A spokesman for the US Department of Defence stated that there was "no question" as to Russia's involvement in the attacks on Ukrainian Armed Forces.[190] On 28 July it published satellite photos showing heavy artillery shelling Ukrainian positions from Russian territory.[5]

Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over the conflict zone on 17 July near Torez in Donetsk Oblast. Evidence from open sources indicated that separatists in Ukraine were in control of a Russian-supplied Buk missile launcher on 17 July and transported it from Donetsk to Snizhne.[191]

In August, Russia sent dozens of white lorries, green army trucks painted white, into eastern Ukraine, without inspection by Ukraine.[192] The trucks were "almost empty" the BBC’s Steve Rosenberg reported, and the action was characterized as a diversion, a distraction, so that at other points equipment and personnel came into Ukraine.[63][193]

August military invasion

In early August, according to Igor Strelkov, Russian servicemen, supposedly on "vacation" from the army, began to arrive.[194] In late August 2014, according to NATO officials, Russia moved self-propelled artillery onto the territory of Ukraine.[195] Russian soldiers were captured in Donetsk Oblast; Russia claimed that they had crossed over by accident.[196]

Russia was reported to have shelled Ukrainian territory,[197] and Russian military forces were reported to have entered Ukraine near Novoazovsk,[198][199][200] and Amvrosiivka, which was occupied by Russian paratroopers.[201][202] On 24 August 2014, President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko referred to the conflict as Ukraine's "Patriotic War of 2014" and a war against "external aggression".[203] The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine labeled the conflict an invasion on 27 August 2014.[204] Russian military vehicles crossing the border of Ukraine and artillery positions close to the Ukrainian borders are clearly visible on satellite photos from 23 August 2014, according to Bellingcat.[205]

On 27 August, two columns of Russian tanks entered Ukrainian territory in support of the pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk and engaged Ukrainian border forces, but US officials were reluctant to declare that Russia had begun invading Ukraine.[206] NATO officials stated that over 1,000 Russian troops were operating inside Ukraine, but termed the incident an incursion rather than an invasion.[207] The Russian government denied these claims. NATO published satellite photos which it said showed the presence of Russian troops within Ukrainian territory.[208] The pro-Russian separatists admitted that Russian troops were fighting alongside them, stating that this was "no secret", but that the Russian troops were just soldiers who preferred to take their vacations fighting in Ukraine rather than "on the beach". The Prime Minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic stated that 3,000 to 4,000 Russian troops had fought in separatist ranks and that most of them had not returned to Russia, having continued to fight in Ukraine.[209]

The 76th Guards Air Assault Division allegedly entered Ukrainian territory in August and engaged in a skirmish, suffering 80 dead. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said that they had destroyed three of the units tanks and seized two armoured vehicles. Since the unit possesses no tanks in its Table of Organisation and Equipment, the Ukrainian claim remains dubious. The Russian government denied the skirmish took place. After the denials, Vladimir Putin awarded the Division one of Russia's highest awards, the Order of Suvorov for the "successful completion of military missions" and "courage and heroism".[210]

For at least one week prior to the invasion, Russia shelled Ukrainian units from across the border,[211] but instances of cross-border shelling from Russia had been reported since mid-July.[212][213] At the time, Russian government spokesman denied these allegations.[214] On 13 August, members of the Russian Human Rights Commission stated that over 100 Russian soldiers had been killed in the fighting in Ukraine and inquired why they were there.[208] On 28 August, members of the commission called the presence of Russian troops on Ukrainian soil "an outright invasion".[215] On 28 August 2014, Ukraine ordered national mandatory conscription.[216]

The two Russian tank columns captured the southeastern city of Novoazovsk on the Azov sea,[217] and Russian soldiers began arresting and deporting to unknown locations all Ukrainians who did not have an address registered within the town.[218] Pro-Ukrainian anti-war protests took place in Mariupol which was threatened by Russian troops.[218][219] The UN Security Council called an emergency meeting to discuss the situation.[220]

Around 29–30 August, Russian tanks destroyed "virtually every house" in Novosvitlivka, according to Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko.[221] On 2 September, after Ukrainian forces agreed to surrender Ilovaisk, they were bombarded by Russian forces while they evacuated through a "green corridor." The assault on the troops who were marked with white flags was variously described as a "massacre."[31][222][223][224][225][226] At least 100 were killed.[222]

On 3 September, Ukrainian President Poroshenko said he had reached a permanent ceasefire agreement with Russian President Putin.[227] Russia then denied the ceasefire took place, denying being party to the conflict at all.[228] Ukraine then retracted its previous statement concerning the potential ceasefire.[229]

Also on 3 September, the OSCE for the first time reported "light and heavy calibre shootings from the east and south-east areas which are also bordering Ukraine". The report also stated that the OSCE Observer Teams had seen an increase of military-style dressed men crossing the border in both directions, including ones with LPR and Novorossiya symbols and flags, and wounded being transported back to Russia.[230]

In late August, NATO released satellite images which it considered to be evidence of Russian operations inside Ukraine with sophisticated weaponry,[231] and after the setbacks[71] of Ukrainian forces by early September, it was evident Russia had sent soldiers and armour across the border and locals acknowledged the role of Putin and Russian soldiers in effecting a reversal of fortunes.[31][68][69][232][233]

A convoy of military vehicles, including armoured personnel carriers, with official Russian military plates crossed into Ukraine near the militant-controlled Izvaryne border crossing on 14 August.[234][235] The Ukrainian government later announced that they had destroyed most of the armoured column with artillery. Secretary General of NATO Anders Fogh Rasmussen said this incident was a "clear demonstration of continued Russian involvement in the destabilisation of eastern Ukraine".[236] The same day, Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking to Russian ministers and Crimean parliamentarians on a visit to Crimea, undertook to do everything he could to end the conflict in Ukraine, saying Russia needed to build calmly and with dignity, not by confrontation and war which isolated it from the rest of the world. The comments came as international sanctions against Russia were being stepped up.[237]

On 17 August, Ukraine accused Russia of sending more military equipment, including Grad rocket launchers, across the border and on to Nizhny Nagolchyk.[238] Sergei Lavrov continued to deny that Russia was sending any equipment across the border. He asserted that an OSCE observer mission placed at border crossing points in the region had not identified any unlawful crossings of the border but the OSCE mission that Lavrov mentioned had no mandate to check the long, unguarded sections of the border where crossings of men and equipment occurred frequently.[239]

Ukrainian Defence Minister Valeriy Heletey said on 21 August that the militants were using Russian-made weapons that had never been used or bought by the Armed Forces of Ukraine.[240] Injured pro-Russian fighters were usually treated in Russia, with help from the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations.[241] They were also questioned and registered by the Federal Security Service (FSB), the Russian domestic security and intelligence agency.[241]

The official response of the Chief Military Prosecutor's Office of Russia, which confirmed the death of Pskov paratroopers. The circumstances of the death are designated as "state secret".[242]

On 18 August, Russian minister of defence Sergey Shoigu awarded the Suvorov medal to a paratroopers division from Pskov. Russian media highlighted that the medal is awarded exclusively for combat operations and reported that a large number of soldiers from this division had died in Ukraine just days before, but their burials were conducted in secret.[243][244][245] In 2015, president Putin awarded the honorary name of "guardian" to two divisions: 11. paratroopers brigade from Ulan-Ude, 83. paratroopers brigade from Ussuriysk and 38. communications regiment from Moscow area. The status was awarded for undisclosed combat operations.[246]

According to NATO reports, Russian military shelled Ukrainian positions across the border from mid-August, and by 22 August, Russian artillery and personnel had crossed the border into Ukraine itself.[195][247] On 25 August, a column of Russian tanks and military vehicles was reported to have crossed into Ukraine in the southeast, near the town of Novoazovsk, and headed towards Ukrainian-held Mariupol.[248][249][250]

Lindsey Hilsum wrote in the Channel 4 news blog that in early September Ukrainian troops at Dmitrivska came under attack from BM-30 Smerch rockets from Russia.[251] On 4 September, she wrote of rumours that Ukrainian troops who had been shelling Luhansk for weeks were retreating west and that Russian soldiers with heavy armour were reported to have come over the border to back up the rebels.[252] Ukrainian troops gave accounts of fighting the Russian army during the Battle of Ilovaisk.[31]

Journalist Tim Judah wrote in the NYR blog about the scale of the devastation suffered by Ukrainian forces in southeastern Ukraine over the last week of August 2014 that it amounted "to a catastrophic defeat and will long be remembered by embittered Ukrainians as among the darkest days of their history." The scale of the destruction achieved in several ambushes revealed "that those attacking the pro-government forces were highly professional and using very powerful weapons." The fighting in Ilovaysk had begun on 7 August when units from three Ukrainian volunteer militias and the police attempted to take it back from rebel control. Then, on 28 August, the rebels were able to launch a major offensive, with help from elsewhere, including Donetsk—though "not Russia," according to Commander Givi, the head of rebel forces there. By 1 September it was all over and the Ukrainians had been decisively defeated. Commander Givi said the ambushed forces were militias, not regular soldiers, whose numbers had been boosted, 'by foreigners, including Czechs, Hungarians, and "niggers." '[253]

Mick Krever wrote on the CNN blog that on 5 September Russia's Permanent Representative to the OSCE, Andrey Kelin had said it was natural pro-Russian separatists "are going to liberate" Mariupol. Ukrainian forces stated that Russian intelligence groups had been spotted in the area. Kelin said 'there might be volunteers over there.'[254] NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen meanwhile said there were several thousand regular Russian forces operating in Ukraine. Lindsey Hilsum reported on the Channel 4 news blog about the total destruction of Luhansk International Airport which was being used as a base by the Ukrainian forces to shell Luhansk, probably because the Russians decided to 'turn the tide' - the terminal building and everything around was utterly destroyed. Forces from Azerbaijan, Belarus and Tajikistan who were fighting on the side of the rebels allowed themselves to be filmed.[255]

On 12 September 2014, the Guardian saw a Russian armoured personnel carrier in Lutuhyne.[256] The next day, it was reported that Moscow had sent a convoy of trucks delivering "aid" into Ukraine without Kiev's consent. This convoy was not inspected by Ukraine or accompanied by the ICRC. Top Ukrainian leaders largely remained silent about the convoys after the ceasefire deal was reached. The "aid" was part of the 12-point Minsk agreement.[257][258]

The speaker of Russia's upper house of parliament and Russian state television channels acknowledged that Russian soldiers entered Ukraine, but referred to them as "volunteers".[259] A reporter for Novaya Gazeta, an opposition newspaper in Russia, stated that the Russian military leadership paid soldiers to resign their commissions and fight in Ukraine in the early summer of 2014, and then began ordering soldiers into Ukraine. This reporter mentioned knowledge of at least one case when soldiers who refused were threatened with prosecution.[260] Russian opposition MP Lev Shlosberg made similar statements, although he said combatants from his country are "regular Russian troops", disguised as units of the DPR and LPR.[261] Shlosberg's newspaper also released transcripts of phone conversations between Russian soldiers being treated in a Pskov hospital for wounds received while fighting in Ukraine. The soldiers reveal that they were sent to the war, but told by their officers that they were going on "an exercise". Despite denials that Russian soldiers had been ordered to fight in Ukraine, in August Vladimir Putin awarded the Order of Suvorov, an award given for combat against a foreign enemy, to the 76th Guards Air Assault Division, a Russian military paratrooper unit, for "successful completion of military missions". At the time, Ukrainian officials reported that fighting between the 76th Guards and Ukrainian military had taken place but Kremlin dismissed these reports.[210]

On 26 August 2014, a mixed column composed of at least 3 T-72B1s and a lone T-72BM was identified on a video from Sverdlovsk, Ukraine by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. The sighting undermined Russia's attempts to maintain plausible deniability over the issue of supplying tanks and other arms to the separatists. Russia continuously claimed that any tanks operated by the separatists must have been captured from Ukraine's own army. The T-72BM is in service with the Russian Army in large numbers. This modernized T-72 is not known to have been exported to nor operated by any other country.[262] Reuters found other tanks of this type near Horbatenko in October.[263] In November, the United Kingdom's embassy in Ukraine also published an infographic demonstrating specific features of the T-72 tanks used by separatists not present in tanks held by Ukrainian army, ironically addressing it to "help Russia recognize its own tanks".[264] The equipment included for example Thales Optronics thermal vision instruments exported to Russia between 2007-2012 only.[265]

In December, Ukrainian hackers published a large cache of documents coming allegedly from a hacked server of Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MID). The documents originated from various departments coordinated by MID, such as local police, road police, emergency services etc. The cache included documents describing Russian military casualties arriving on 25 August to hospitals in the Rostov area after a battle "10 km northwest of the small village of Prognoi", which matched a battle in Krasnaya Talovka reported on the same date by Ukrainian side.[266]

In early September 2014, Russian state-owned television channels reported on the funerals of Russian soldiers who died in Ukraine during the war in Donbass, but described them as "volunteers" fighting for the "Russian world". Valentina Matviyenko, a top politician in the ruling United Russia party, also praised "volunteers" fighting in "our fraternal nation", referring to Ukraine.[259]

After a series of military defeats and setbacks for the Donetsk and Lugansk separatists, who united under the banner of "Novorossiya", a term Russian President Vladimir Putin used to describe southeastern Ukraine,[267][268] Russia dispatched what it called a "humanitarian convoy" of trucks across the Russo-Ukrainian border in mid-August 2014. Ukraine reacted to the move by calling it a "direct invasion".[269] Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council published a report on the number and contents of these convoys, claiming they were arriving almost daily in November (up to 9 convoys on 30 November) and their contents were mainly arms and ammunition. In total, in November there were 1,903 trucks crossing the border from Russia to Donbass, 20 buses with soldiers or volunteers, 402 armoured personnel carriers, 256 tanks, 138 "Grad" launchers, 42 cannons and howitzers, 35 self-propelled artillery vehicles, 5 "Buk" launchers, 4 "Uragan" launchers, 4 "Buratino" flamethrowers, 6 pontoon bridge trucks, 5 "Taran" radio interception systems, 5 armoured recovery vehicles, 3 radiolocation systems, 2 truck cranes, 1 track layer vehicle, 1 radiolocation station, unknown number of "Rtut-BM" electronic warfare systems, 242 fuel tankers and 205 light off-road vehicles and vans.[270]

About the same time, multiple reports indicated separatist militias were receiving reinforcements that allowed them to turn the tables on government forces.[271] Armoured columns coming from Russia also pushed into southern Donetsk Oblast and reportedly captured the town of Novoazovsk, clashing with Ukrainian forces and opening a new front in the Donbass conflict.[249][272]

On 25 August, the Security Service of Ukraine announced the capture of a group of Russian soldiers from the paratroopers military unit 71211 from Kostroma, who crossed the Ukrainian border in the night of 23 August.[273] The soldiers were stopped in Dzerkalne, 20 kilometres (12 mi) from the border.[196] The SBU also released their photos and names.[274] The next day, the Russian Ministry of Defence said that they had crossed the border "by accident".[275] Some Russian media, such as Pskovskaya Guberniya,[276] reported that Russian paratroopers may have been killed in Ukraine. Journalists traveled to Pskov, the reported burial location of the troops, to investigate. Multiple reporters said they had been attacked or threatened there, and that the attackers erased several camera memory cards.[277] On 31 August, the Russian media reported that ten Russian paratroopers captured inside Ukraine had returned home following a troop exchange. Ukraine said the soldiers were captured 20 km from the border with Russia and Russia claimed that the soldiers had crossed in Ukraine "by accident". The 64 Ukrainian troops provided in exchange were captured after entering Russia to escape the upsurge in fighting.[278] Russia claimed that the Russian troops had mistakenly crossed an unmarked area of the border while on patrol.[279] Ukraine released videos of captured Russian soldiers which challenged Russia's claim that it had nothing to do with the conflict.[280]

On 3 September, a Sky News team filmed groups of troops near Novoazovsk wearing modern combat gear typical for Russian units and traveling in new military vehicles with number plates and other markings removed. Specialists consulted by the journalists identified parts of the equipment (uniform, rifles) as currently used by Russian ground forces and paratroopers.[281] Russian state television for the first time showed the funeral of a soldier killed fighting in east Ukraine. State-controlled TV station Channel One showed the burial of paratrooper Anatoly Travkin in the central Russian city of Kostroma. The broadcaster said Travkin had not told his wife or commanders about his decision to fight alongside pro-Russia rebels battling government forces. "Officially he just went on leave," the news reader said. [282]

Russian officials denied[283] reports that Russian military units were operating in Ukraine (see War in Donbass), claiming instead they had been sent on routine drills close to the border with Ukraine[284] and crossed the border by mistake.[285] On 28 August 2014 Dutch Brigadier-General Nico Tak, head of NATO's crisis management center, said that "over 1,000 Russian troops are now operating inside Ukraine".[286]

On 5 September, Sergey Krivenko, a member of Russian President's Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, commented on the growing number of Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine, saying that "the situation now is very strange, something unusual is going on; it could be described as massive dying of soldiers, which is not typical for a time of peace; people from different military units are killed as a result of shots, from loss of blood, all these reasons are documented; and the military command explains that it happened during training or provides no explanation at all".[287][288]

November escalation

On 7 November, NATO officials confirmed the continued invasion of Ukraine, with 32 Russian tanks, 16 howitzer cannons and 30 trucks of troops entering the country.[289] On 12 November, NATO reiterated the prevalence of Russian troops; US general Philip Breedlove said "Russian tanks, Russian artillery, Russian air defence systems and Russian combat troops" were sighted.[125] The Lithuanian Mission to the United Nations denounced Russia's 'undeclared war' on Ukraine.[290] Journalist Menahem Kahana took a picture showing a 1RL232 "Leopard" battlefield surveillance radar system in Torez, east of Donetsk; and Dutch freelance journalist Stefan Huijboom took pictures which showed the 1RL232 traveling with the 1RL239 "Lynx" radar system.[291]

Burnt-out remains of tanks and vehicles left after battles appeared to provide further evidence of Russian involvement.[292]

The Associated Press reported 80 unmarked military vehicles on the move in rebel-controlled areas. Three separate columns were observed, one near the main separatist stronghold of Donetsk and two outside the town of Snizhne. Several of the trucks were seen to be carrying troops.[74]

OSCE monitors further observed vehicles apparently used to transport soldiers' dead bodies crossing the Russian-Ukrainian border  in one case a vehicle marked with Russia's military code for soldiers killed in action crossed from Russia into Ukraine on 11 November 2014 and later returned.[76] On 23 January 2015 the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers warned about conscripts being sent to east Ukraine.[293] NATO said it had seen an increase in Russian tanks, artillery pieces and other heavy military equipment in eastern Ukraine and renewed its call for Moscow to withdraw its forces.[294]

The Center for Eurasian Strategic Intelligence estimated, based on "official statements and interrogation records of captured military men from these units, satellite surveillance data" as well as verified announcements from relatives and profiles in social networks, that over 30 Russian military units were taking part in the conflict in Ukraine. In total, over 8,000 soldiers had fought there at different moments.[295] The Chicago Council on Global Affairs stated that the Russian separatists enjoyed technical advantages over the Ukrainian army since the large inflow of advanced military systems in mid-2014: effective anti-aircraft weapons ("Buk", MANPADS) suppressed Ukrainian air strikes, Russian drones provided intelligence, and Russian secure communications system thwarted the Ukrainian side from communications intelligence. The Russian side also frequently employed electronic warfare systems that Ukraine lacked. Similar conclusions about the technical advantage of the Russian separatists were voiced by the Conflict Studies Research Centre.[296]

In November 2014, Igor Girkin gave a long interview to the extreme right-wing[297] nationalist newspaper "Zavtra" ("Tomorrow") where for the first time he released details about the beginning of the conflict in Donbass. According to Girkin, he was the one who "pulled the trigger of war" and it was necessary because acquisition of Crimea alone by Russia "did not make sense" and Crimea as part of the Novorossiya "would make the jewel in the crown of the Russian Empire". Girkin had been directed to Donbass by Sergey Aksyonov and he entered Ukraine with a group of 52 officers in April, initially taking Slavyansk, Kramatorsk and then other cities. Girkin also talked about the situation in August, when separatist forces were close to defeat and only a prompt intervention of Russian "leavers" (ironic term for "soldiers on leave") saved them. Their forces took command in the siege of Mariupol as well.[298][299] In response to internal criticism of the Russian government's policy of not officially recognizing Russian soldiers in Ukraine as fulfilling military service and leaving their families without any source of income if they are killed, president Vladimir Putin signed a new law in October entitling their families to a monthly compensation. Two new entitlement categories were added: "missing in action" and "declared dead" (as of 1 January 2016).[300][301]

Alexandr Negrebetskih, a deputy from the Russian city of Zlatoust who fought as a volunteer on the side of separatists, complained in an interview that "the locals run to Russia, and we have to come here as they are reluctant to defend their land" which resulted in his detachment being composed of 90% Russians and only 10% locals from Donetsk.[302]

In November, Lev Shlosberg published a response from a military attorney's office to questions he asked about the status of Pskov paratroopers killed in Ukraine in August. The office answered that the soldiers died while "fulfilling military service outside of their permanent dislocation units" (Pskov), but any further information on their orders or location of death was withheld as "classified". A political expert Alexey Makarkin compared these answers to those provided by Soviet ministry of defence during the Soviet war in Afghanistan when the USSR attempted to hide the scale of their casualties at any cost.[303]

Numerous reports of Russian troops and warfare on Ukrainian territory were raised in United Nations Security Council meetings. In 12 November meeting, the representative of the United Kingdom also accused Russia of intentionally constraining OSCE observatory missions' capabilities, pointing out that the observers were allowed to monitor only two kilometers of border between Ukraine and Russia, and drones deployed to extend their capabilities were being jammed or shot down.[304]

In November, Armament Research Services published a detailed report on arms used by both sides of the conflict, documenting a number of "flag items". Among vehicles, they documented the presence of T-72B Model 1989 and T-72B3 tanks, armoured vehicles of models BTR-82AM, MT-LB 6MA, MT-LBVM, and MT-LBVMK, and an Orlan-10 drone and 1RL239 radar vehicle. Among the ammunition, they documented 9K38 Igla (date of manufacture 2014), ASVK rifle (2012), RPG-18 rocket launchers (2011), 95Ya6 rocket boosters (2009) MRO-A (2008), 9M133 Kornet anti-tank weapons (2007), PPZR Grom (2007), MON-50 (2002), RPO-A (2002), PKP (2001), OG-7 (2001), and VSS rifles (1987). These weapons, mostly manufactured in Russia, were used by pro-Russian separatists in the conflict zone, but never "were in the Ukrainian government inventory prior to the outbreak of hostilities". The report also noted the use of PPZR Grom MANPADs, produced in Poland and never exported to Ukraine. They were however exported to Georgia in 2007 and subsequently captured by the Russian army during the Russian-Georgian War 2008.[305] Also in November, Pantsir-S1 units were observed in separatist-controlled areas near Novoazovsk, which were never part of the UAF's inventory.[306] Bellingcat maintains a dedicated database of geolocated images of military vehicles specific to each side of the conflict, mostly focused on Russian military equipment found on Ukrainian territory.[307]


In January 2015, an image of a BPM-97 apparently inside Ukraine, in Luhansk, provided further evidence of Russian military vehicles inside Ukraine.[308][309]

Poroshenko spoke of a dangerous escalation on 21 January amid reports of more than 2,000 additional Russian troops crossing the border, together with 200 tanks and armed personnel carriers. He abbreviated his visit to the World Economic Forum in Davos because of his concerns at the worsening situation.[310]

In January, Donetsk, Lugansk, and Mariupol were the three cities that represented the three fronts on which Ukraine was pressed by forces armed, trained and backed by Russia.[311]

On 29 January, the chief of Ukraine’s General Military Staff Viktor Muzhenko said 'the Ukrainian army is not engaged in combat operations against Russian regular units,' but that he had information about Russian civilian and military individuals fighting alongside 'illegal armed groups in combat activities.'[312] Reporting from DPR-controlled areas on 28 January, the OSCE observed on the outskirts of Khartsyzk, east of Donetsk, "a column of five T-72 tanks facing east, and immediately after, another column of four T-72 tanks moving east on the same road which was accompanied by four unmarked military trucks, type URAL. All vehicles and tanks were unmarked." It reported on an intensified movement of unmarked military trucks, covered with canvas.[313] After the shelling of residential areas in Mariupol, NATO's Jens Stoltenberg said: "Russian troops in eastern Ukraine are supporting these offensive operations with command and control systems, air defence systems with advanced surface-to-air missiles, unmanned aerial systems, advanced multiple rocket launcher systems, and electronic warfare systems."'[294][314]

Svetlana Davydova, a mother of seven, was accused of treason for calling the Ukrainian embassy about Russian troop movements and arrested on 27 January 2015. She was held at the high-security Lefortovo jail in Moscow until her release on 3 February with charges against her still pending. The Russian General Staff said details of the case constituted a "state secret."[315][316]

Both Ukrainian and DNR sides have reported unknown sabotage groups firing at both sides of the conflict and also on residential areas, calling them a "third force".[317] SBU published an intercepted call in which DNR commanders reported such a group had been arrested with Russian passports and military documents.[318] DNR confirmed that such groups were indeed stopped and "destroyed" but called them "Ukrainian sabotage groups working to discredit the armed forces of the Russian Federation".[319]

According to a top U.S. general, Russian supplied drones and electronic jamming have ensured Ukrainian troops struggle to counter artillery fire by pro-Russian militants. "The rebels have Russian-provided UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) that are giving the rebels the detection capability and the ability to target Ukrainian forces".[320] Advanced electronic jamming was also reported by OSCE observers on numerous occasions.[321]

US Army commander in Europe Ben Hodges stated in February 2015 that "it's very obvious from the amount of ammunition, type of equipment, there's direct Russian military intervention in the Debaltseve area".[322]

On 9 February 2015, a group of twenty contract soldiers from Murmansk raised an official complaint to the Russian ministry of defence when they were told they would "go to the Rostov area and possibly cross the Ukrainian border to fulfill their patriotic duty". The soldiers notified human rights activists and requested the orders in written form, which they were not given.[323][324] On 13 February, a young soldier, Ilya Kudryavtsev, was found dead after calling home and informing his relatives that he was to be sent on a mission to Rostov-on-Don, which is the usual starting point to Ukraine. Although he was severely beaten, his death was officially classified as a suicide.[325]

According to estimates by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Russian separatists forces number around 36,000 troops (as compared to 34,000 Ukrainian), of which 8,500-10,000 are purely Russian soldiers. Additionally, around 1,000 GRU troops are operating in the area.[326] According to a military expert, Ilya Kramnik, total Ukrainian forces outnumber the Russian forces by a factor of two (20,000 Russian separatists vs. 40,000 fighting for Ukraine).[327]

In March 2015, Novaya Gazeta published an interview with a Russian soldier, Dorzhi Batomunkuev, who operated a tank in the Battle of Debaltseve and was wounded. He confirmed that the tanks came from his military unit in Ulan-Ude in Russia and that his unit "painted over the serial numbers and unit signs straight away on the rail platforms". In November 2014, Batomunkuev was sent as a conscript to Rostov-on-Don, where he became a contract soldier. Traveling by train with his unit from Ulan-Ude, Batomunkuev said he saw "plenty of such trains" travelling along with them "day after day". After three months at Kosminskiy training facility, their unit of 31 tanks and 300 soldiers in total (mostly Buryats) was given an order to move on 8 February 2015 and crossed the Ukrainian border in the night, arriving in Donetsk in the morning. They took part in the battle on 12–14 February.[328][329][330] Joseph Kobzon met Batomunkuev in the same hospital a few days before the NG interview.[331]

A report by Igor Sutyagin published by the Royal United Services Institute in March 2015 stated that a total of 42,000 regular Russian combat troops have been involved in the fighting, with a peak strength of 10,000 in December 2014. The direct involvement of the Russian troops on Ukrainian territory began in August 2014, at a time when Ukrainian military successes created the possibility that the pro-Russian rebels would collapse. According to the report, the Russian troops are the most capable units on the anti-Ukrainian side, with the regular Donetsk and Luhansk rebel formations being used essentially as "cannon fodder".[332][333] The Chicago Council on Global Affairs stated that the Russian separatists enjoyed technical advantages over the Ukrainian army since the large inflow of advanced military systems in mid-2014: effective anti-aircraft weapons ("Buk", MANPADS) suppressed Ukrainian air strikes, Russian drones provided intelligence, and Russian secure communications system thwarted the Ukrainian side from communications intelligence. The Russian side also frequently employed electronic warfare systems that Ukraine lacked. Similar conclusions about the technical advantage of the Russian separatists were voiced by the Conflict Studies Research Centre.[333]

In February 2015, the leading independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported[334] that it had obtained documents, allegedly written by oligarch Konstantin Malofayev and others, which provided the Russian government with a strategy in the event of Viktor Yanukovych's removal from power and the break-up of Ukraine, which were considered likely. The documents outlined plans for the annexation of Crimea and the eastern portions of the country, closely describing the events that actually followed after Yanukovych's fall. The documents also described plans for a public relations campaign which would seek to justify Russian actions.[335][336][337]

In March 2015, a commander of the DPR special forces unit, Dmitry Sapozhnikov, gave an interview to the BBC[338] in which he spoke openly about the involvement of Russian soldiers in the conflict. He described the arrival of Russian military vehicles and personnel from across the border as critical to the success of large scale operations such as the battle of Debaltseve. Russian high-rank officers planned the operations and regular Russian army units with DPR forces carried them out jointly. In Sapozhnikov's opinion, "everyone knows that" and it's "no secret", but he was surprised to find out that it is not so widely acknowledged in Russia when he returned to Saint Petersburg.[339]

In April 2015, a group of Russian volunteers returning to Ekaterinburg complained in an interview to local media about a lack of support from the local population, who sometimes called them "occupiers", and their highly ambiguous status while in Donbass: Ukraine and "the court in Madrid" considered them to be terrorists; the DPR considered them "illegal armed groups" and offered them contracts, but if they signed they would become mercenaries under Russian law.[340] Another volunteer, a citizen of Latvia nicknamed "Latgalian", told on his return from Donbass that he was disappointed with how the situation there differed from what he had seen in the Russian media: he saw no support and sometimes open hostility to the insurgents from the local civilians, presence of Russian troops and military equipment.[341] Also in early April, a number of Russian spetznaz soldiers took pictures of themselves changing their military uniforms into "miner's battledress" used by the insurgents, and posted them on their VK pages, where they were picked up by Ukrainian media.[342] Another volunteer, Bondo Dorovskih, who left to Donbass to "fight fascism" gave a long interview to Russian media on his return, describing how he found himself "not in an army, but in a gang", involved in large scale looting. He also described the methods used by Russian army to covertly deliver military equipment, people and ammunition to Donbass, as well as hostile attitude of the local civilian population.[343]

On 22 April 2015, the US Department of State accused the "combined Russian-separatist forces" of accumulating air defence systems, UAV along with command and control equipment in eastern Ukraine, and of conducting "complex" military training that "leaves no doubt that Russia is involved in the training". Russia is also reinforcing its military presence on the eastern border with Ukraine as well as near Belgorod which is close to Kharkiv.[344]

In May 2015, Reuters interviewed a number of Russian soldiers, some named and some speaking under condition of anonymity, who were serving in Donbass as truck drivers, crew of a T-72B3 tank and of a "Grad" launcher. Some of their colleagues resigned when asked to go to Donbass by their commanders, which was "not an easy decision" because the salary offered was between 20 and 60,000 rubles per month. The members of the "Grad" launcher crew confirmed they were shelling targets in Ukraine from Russian territory, around 2 km from the border.[345]

Allies of Boris Nemtsov released Putin. War, a report on Russian involvement that he had been working on before his death.[346] Other Russian opposition activists announced that they had found fresh graves of members of a GRU special forces brigade that had operated in Ukraine.[347]

In May, two GRU soldiers, Alexander Alexandrov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev, were captured alive in a battle near Schastie and were later interviewed by press, admitting to being on active duty at the time of capture. Russian military command declared they left active service in December 2014, a claim that was repeated on Russian television by the wife of Alexandrov.[347][348] Consequently, Ukraine declared it would try them as terrorists, not prisoners of war, and a controversy developed in the Russian press regarding the status of the soldiers.[349] At the same time, Russian journalists found out that their families were strictly isolated from contacts with press and the captured soldiers.[350] While Alexandrov declared he would seek legal methods to confirm his status in Russia, military analyst Alexander Golts considers this impossible as special forces soldiers routinely sign contract termination declaration to be backdated in such a situation.[351]

Shortly afterward, a Russian military drone, "Forpost", was shot down near Avdeevka and recovered in good condition, with all the serial numbers and nameplates intact.[352][353] On 28 May 2015, the Atlantic Council released Hiding in Plain Sight: Putin's War in Ukraine, a report which they said provided "irrefutable evidence of direct Russian military involvement in eastern Ukraine".[354]

On 17 May 2015 two Russian soldiers of the 3rd Guards Spetsnaz Brigade were captured by Secret Service of Ukraine during a battle near town Shchastya (Lughansk oblast, Ukraine).[355] On 18 May they were transferred to Kiev.[356] On 19 May a spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry stated that the two named prisoners were not active servicemen when they were captured,[357] thus depriving the two Russians of their status as combatants and their protection under the Geneva Convention. The head of Ukraine's Security Service stated that the two men will be prosecuted for "terrorist acts".[357] On 20 May 2015 members of the OSCE mission to Ukraine spoke with the Russian soldiers in the hospital.[358] The OSCE 20 May 2015 report includes the following:

One of them said he had received orders from his military unit to go to Ukraine; he was to "rotate" after three months. Both of them said they had been to Ukraine "on missions" before.
OSCE, report of May 20, 2015[358]

In June 2015, Vice News reporter Simon Ostrovsky investigated the movements of Bato Dambaev, a Russian contract soldier from Buryatia, through a military camp in Rostov Oblast to Vuhlehirsk in Ukraine during the battle of Debaltseve and back to Buryatia, finding exact locations where Dambaev photographed himself, and came to a conclusion that Dambaev had fought in Ukraine while in active service in the Russian army.[359] With Russia refusing to allow the OSCE to expand its mission, OSCE observer Paul Picard stated that "We often see how Russian media outlets manipulate our statements. They say that we have not seen Russian troops crossing the borders. But that only applies to two border crossings. We have no idea what is going on at the others."[360]

In July 2015, Ukraine arrested a Russian officer, Vladimir Starkov, when his truck loaded with ammunition took a wrong turn and ended up at a Ukrainian checkpoint. On arrest, Starkov declared that he was a Russian military officer in active service and later explained that he was officially assigned to a Russian military unit in Novocherkassk, but immediately on arrival reassigned to join DPR forces.[361][362]

In November 2015, a Russian judge accepted serving in the DNR militia as a mitigating circumstance.[363] On 17 December 2015, Putin admitted that Russian military intelligence officers were operating in Ukraine, stating "We never said there were not people there who carried out certain tasks including in the military sphere."[81]


In September 2016 OSCE monitoring mission noticed military trucks with partially covered Russian number plates 26 km east from Donetsk.[364] Also in September a Russian soldier Denis Sidorov surrendered to the Ukrainian forces in Shirokaya Balka, revealing details of Russian leadership of the local DNR forces in the area.[365]

On 17 October 2016 the OSCE mission noted a minivan with "black licence plates with white lettering" which are used on military vehicles in Russia. A number of people in civilian and military camouflage was travelling on the vehicle.[366]

Details of Russian involvement

Russia officially has long denied organized presence of their military units in Ukraine. Nevertheless, evidence of its soldiers' involvement is rampant.[367] On 25 August 2014 ten Russian paratroopers were captured in Ukraine, the Russian Ministry of Defense maintained that the men were lost and crossed the border into Ukraine by accident.[368][369] In May 2015 two suspected Russian GRU agents (Military intelligence) were detained by Ukrainian forces, Russia's Ministry of Defense stated the men were former soldiers who were not on active duty at the time of capture. The two men were later exchanged for captured Ukrainian pilot and politician Nadiya Savchenko[370] In July 2015 a Russian major was detained near Donetsk as he drove an ammunition truck into a Ukrainian checkpoint, the Russian military maintained the man was not involved with the Russian military and fought for local separatists. The major was later exchanged for captured Ukrainian soldiers.[371][372] In September 2015 Ukraine's border guards detained 2 Russian internal troops when they crossed the border in Ukraine's Luhansk oblast, the Russian servicemen stated they were lost and crossed the border by accident, with the Russian Military of Defense accusing Ukraine's forces of crossing into the nearby Russian village and abducting the servicemen.[373][374] In October 2015, Russian Ministry of Defence admitted that "special forces were pulled out of Ukraine and sent to Syria" and that they were serving in eastern Ukraine on territories held by pro-Russian rebels.[375] On 17 December 2015 when asked about the two detained Russian citizens in Ukraine who were being accused of being military intelligence officers President Vladimir Putin responded: "We never said there were not people there who carried out certain tasks including in the military sphere." This was generally taken as an admission that Russian military operatives were deployed to Ukraine.[376] Before that declaration there had been a large amount of circumstantial evidence that confirmed the presence of Russia's military.[29][377][378][379][380][381][382][383][384] Large part of the evidence are military vehicles and weapons that are unique to Russian armed forces and never present in Ukraine before the conflict. The OSCE monitoring mission has also noted the presence of troops declaring themselves as Russian servicemen in DPR-controlled territory.[385] As the rest of the post-Soviet republics every Russian military equipment has a hull number (bortovoi nomer). However all equipment in possession of the Russian puppet organizations LPR and DPR has all hull number painted over to conceal its relation to the Russian Armed Forces.

Russian citizen and Sparta Battalion commander Arseny Pavlov in Donetsk, 25 December 2014

In 2015, NATO spokesman Robert Pszczel stated in an interview for Dozhd TV that the alliance has sufficient evidence to make "28 member states of the alliance have no doubts about military involvement of Russia" in the Donbass conflict.[386]

In a battle at Donetsk airport more than 50% of the people killed were Russian citizens and were delivered back to Russia. A report for the independent news site Novaya Gazeta, reprinted in The Guardian, tracked down the widow of one Russian man who died during the fighting at Donetsk airport, and sought to shed light onto the obscure structures that organised the transfer of fighters to Ukraine. The report further highlighted the 'frustration of dealing with Russian officialdom apparently so keen to cover up all traces of those fighting across the border'.[387]

Aleksandr Zakharchenko takes an oath of office as the Prime Minister of Donetsk People's Republic, 8 August 2014. In August too he said 1200 fighters trained in Russia for four months, crossed and were ready to fight. He said the reinforcements included 30 tanks and 120 armoured vehicles.[388]

Alexander Zakharchenko said that 1200 fighters had trained in Russia for four months, crossed the border, and were ready to fight. Zakharchenko said the reinforcements included 30 tanks and 120 armoured vehicles.[388] He later denied making the comments.[389]

Cases of Russian soldiers killed and wounded in Ukraine are widely discussed in local Russian media in the republics from which they originated.[390] Recruitment for Donbass is performed rather openly via veteran and other paramilitary organisations. Vladimir Yefimov, leader of one of such organisations, explained in details in an interview how the process works in Ural area. The organisation recruits mostly army veterans, but also policemen, firefighters etc. with military experience. The cost of equipping one volunteer is estimated at around 350,000 rubles (around $6500) plus cost of the volunteer's salary from 60,000 to 240,000 rubles per month depending on their experience. The volunteers are issued a document claiming that their participation is limited to "offering humanitarian help" to avoid Russian mercenary laws. In Russia's anti-mercenary legislation a mercenary is defined as someone who "takes part [in fighting] with aims counter to the interests of the Russian Federation".[391] The recruited travel to the conflict zone without weapons, which are given at the destination. Often, Russian troops have travelled disguised as Red Cross personnel.[151][392][393][394] Igor Trunov, head of Russian Red Cross in Moscow condemned these convoys, saying they made delivery of real humanitarian aid more difficult.[395]

Another leader of a "patriotic organisation" from Orsk, Pavel Korovin, estimated that a total of around 12,000 fighters for Donbass had been recruited from Russia. A significant proportion were people in difficult financial situations, attracted by a high salary (one of the volunteers was promised 100,000 rubles or $1600). Responding to concerns about crossing the Ukrainian border, he explained that "there is a green light for the volunteers on the border" and "all that is covered by appropriate structures". The family of a killed volunteer, when asking about help in bringing back the body, is advised to "speak to the FSB, only they are controlling everything there".[396]

Shortly before his death, Boris Nemtsov was reportedly contacted by a group of "paratroopers from Ivanovo" who complained about significant losses in their unit during a battle in Ukraine and the lack of the promised payment. Nemtsov was preparing a larger report documenting cases of Russian soldiers taking part in the war in Donbass, which is considered a possible reason for his assassination.[397]

The repatriation of Russians killed in action or taken as prisoners of war has become a controversial topic in the media due to the Russian state's denial of involvement in Ukraine.[398][399][400][401] The Associated Press compared it to the Soviet Union's secrecy during its war in Afghanistan, noting "When the true numbers of casualties became known, the invasion turned unpopular."[380] Russian military officials tell family members only that the soldiers are on "training exercises".[402]

Valentina Melnikova, head of the Russian Union of Committees of Soldiers' Mothers, has said that the Russian authorities were threatening the relatives of soldiers who had been killed in Ukraine, and forcing them to keep silent about their deaths.[403] The Kremlin has tried to systematically intimidate and silence human rights workers who have raised questions about Russian soldiers' deaths in Ukraine.[78] In mid-September 2014, Ksenia Batanova, a senior producer for the news network Dozhd, was assaulted in an attack that fractured her skull. Dozhd is a channel that has covered the Russian involvement in Ukraine, and kept a running tally of soldiers' deaths. The Kremlin's pressure on Dozhd intensified during the Ukraine crisis.[404] The BBC reported on the death on 12 August 2014 of a Russian soldier, Konstantin, whose telephone calls to his sister had spoken of Ukraine. The BBC team was stopped and attacked by thugs and its video camera smashed.[405][406] Lev Shlosberg, an MP who was beaten unconscious after investigating the deaths of twelve paratroopers, said, "A great many Russian servicemen have died in Ukraine and their families are outraged but they don't speak out because they are afraid for their lives."[407] Boris Vishnevsky, of the Yabloko political party, and Lyudmila Ivakhnina of the civil rights group Memorial, said that gathering information about conscripts pressured to sign professional contracts is difficult because of the fear of reprisals.[408]

The Union of the Committees of Soldiers' Mothers of Russia started actively questioning the government's policy of "secret war" after a number of Russian soldiers officially sent for "training" to Rostov area died for reasons never officially revealed to the families. These cases were further investigated by non-mainstream media in Russia. The Russian Ministry of Defence always denied the presence of any Russian soldiers in Ukraine and, when presented with undeniable evidence about specific individuals, suggested that they might have crossed the border "by mistake", were "on holiday" at the time, or that their contracts were cancelled (but actually backdated). Soldier's Mothers stated that if the deceased Russian soldiers weren't officially sent to the war zone, their families would not receive social support and the veteran's pension.[409][410]

On 2 October 2014, RBC published An RBC investigation: Where Russian soldiers in Ukraine are from, in which it listed Russian military divisions, soldiers of which are assumed to have been secretly dispatched from Russia to Ukraine and used there.[411] In 2015, Vice News published a series titled Russia's Ghost Army in Ukraine in which they spoke to a number of families of Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine. The mother of Sergey Andrianov, a Russian from Podsolnechnoe in Samara Oblast who was killed on 28 August 2014, presents a number of documents she received from her son's military unit: the death certificate issued in Rostov-on-Don that specifies that he died at a "place of temporary placement" while "completing a special task" and a document certifying "transportation of the body through the border of Russian Federation". All of the mother's questions to her son's commanders were dismissed as a "state secret" and she was told that she would receive compensation of 100,000 rubles ($1600).[412]

On 16 October 2014, the deputy chief of the Security Service of Ukraine said that the service had released 16 out of 131 servicemen of the Armed Forces of Russian Federation back home to their relatives who petitioned through a hotline.[413]

According to soldiers’ rights advocates, the families of Russian soldiers killed after being sent to Ukraine have been told to keep silent, and some families say they have not received the various compensations they are entitled to after a breadwinner in military service has been killed.[414] Svetlana Davydova, a mother of seven, was arrested in 2015, accused of treason for calling the Ukrainian embassy about Russian troop movements, and was held at the high-security Lefortovo jail in Moscow. The Russian General Staff said details of the case constituted a "state secret".[315] The charges against Davydova were dropped the following month.[415] An amendment signed by Putin in late May 2015 banned information about the deaths of Russian servicemen "during special operations" in peacetime.[415][416]

Discussing Russian volunteers in an interview with RIA Novosti on 22 June 2015, Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Security Council of Russia, stated: "We don't call on anyone to do this, we don't encourage it. But realistically, to stop them would be impossible".[391] While Russia has charged one of its citizens, Roman Zheleznov, for fighting in the Ukrainian Azov Battalion, as of 25 June 2015, it has charged no one for fighting alongside the separatists.[391] Since counting began on 1 September 2014 until 1 June 2015, the European monitoring mission on the Russian side of the border has recorded 20,021 men in military uniforms crossing to and from rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine.[417]

In July 2015, a number of Russian contract soldiers at "Kadamovskiy" poligon (Rostovskaya oblast) were charged with desertion after they refused to go into Ukraine as "volunteers". They reported frequent visits of recruiters promising veteran status and daily payment of 8,000 rubles for those fighting in Donbass. They said they were unaware that the money is rarely paid and in case of death, capture or injury in battle they will be most likely abandoned and their official military status denied by Russian army.[418][419] Later that year they were convicted for "refusal to carry out orders" in spite of lack of any orders presented by the prosecution and other inconsistencies.[420]

In September 2015 OSCE monitoring mission spotted Russian TOS-1 "Buratino" thermobaric weapon launchers in separatist training area near Lugansk[421] and in June 2016 its drone spotted a camouflaged R-330ZH "Zhitel" electronic countermeasure station 15 km from Donetsk, these findings being notable as both weapons are unique to the army of Russian Federation.[422]

By October 2015, eastern Ukraine and Crimea were two of Russia's frozen zones.[423] The chances were that the frozen conflict might persist in the Donbass, where the fighting was at a low level, but the threat of escalation remained.[424]

Russian medal count

Citizen journalist Eliot Higgins has pointed to the unusual spike in medals awarded to Russian troops coinciding with major battles occurring in Ukraine. It was noticed that between 25 August 2003 and 7 November 2014 there was 0.6 medals For Distinction in Combat awarded to Russian servicemen per day. However, between 7 November 2014 and 18 February 2016 there was an average of 9.3 medals awarded per day, over a fifteenfold increase. Moreover, the award dates directly coincide with major conflicts occurring in Ukraine at the time. August 2014 sees an initial spike of 60 medal per day being awarded, which coincides with reports of regular Russian troops crossing into Ukraine to aid separatist forces. The medal awards peak during November and December 2014, at over 70 per day, which was a crucial turning point during the Second Battle of Donetsk Airport, continuing to remain at over 10 medals per day until March 2015, which coincides with the Battle of Debaltseve. Also important to note is that the medal For Distinction in Combat may only be awarded for activities undertaken during a combat mission, therefore the large spike in medals awarded in late 2014 and early 2015 suggests a large contingent of Russian servicemen undertaking combat missions. In all 4300 medals were awarded between 7 July 2014 and 18 February 2016, suggesting combat operations involving active duty Russian military personnel occurred during the time period. Likewise spikes in awarding other medals were seen as well. The medal For Courage which was awarded at a rate of 1.4 medals per day between September 2008 and August 2014 increased to 6.3 medals per day between August 2014 and November 2015. The Medal of Suvorov saw an increase of award rate from 1.5 medals per day between October 2013 and November 2014 to 6.8 medals per day after November 2014. In fact in the time period between 24 November and 25 January 2014 more of the medals were awarded then all of 2013 combined.[425]

Training facility

In a press briefing by the Ukrainian Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council (NSDC), Andriy Parubiy stated that militants were trained in a military facility in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. "Near Rostov-on-Don, there is a big military base where terrorists are preparing for deployment into the territory of the Ukrainian state. This is confirmed not only by our intelligence, but also Russian prisoners who were detained, and they testify about this base," Parubiy said. He added that more than a thousand militants are trained by Russian instructors, and then they in small armed groups try to break into the territory of Ukraine.[426] On 21 May, Ukraine detained a Russian citizen trying to enter the country; he had military experience and was found to have recently trained in the Rostov facility.[427]

According to Russian 'volunteer' insurgent organiser Aleksandr Zhuchkovsky, Rostov-on-Don acts as a staging area, where soldiers live in hotels, rented flats and tent camps.[4] In particular, the New York Times reports that the small village of Golovinka (about 60 kilometres (37 mi) northwest of Rostov-on-Don) and nearby Kuzminka military base is a staging area for Russian soldiers and weapons headed to Ukraine.[428]

In June 2014, Jen Psaki stated that the United States Department of State was confident that Russia had sent tanks and rocket launchers from a deployment site in southwest Russia into eastern Ukraine,[429] and NATO satellite imagery showed that on 10 and 11 June main battle tanks were stationed across the border at Donetsk in a staging area in Rostov-on-Don.[430][431]

In July 2014, Reuters published a logbook of an 9K38 Igla missile that was signed out of military storage in Moscow for a military base in Rostov-on-Don, and ended up with insurgents in Donbass, where it was eventually taken over by the Ukrainian forces.[432]

After OSCE observers arrived at Gukovo border crossing on 9 August, they reported that there was a stream of multiple groups of people wearing military-style dress crossing the border between Russia and Ukraine, in both directions, some of them clearly identifying themselves as members of DNR militia. They also observed several ambulance evacuations of wounded supporters of the DPR and LPR.[433]

In February 2015, a group of Spanish nationals were arrested in Madrid for fighting in the war in Donbass on the separatist side. Travelling through Moscow, they were met by a "government official" and sent to Donetsk, where they were provided with accommodation, uniforms and weapons, but they fought as volunteers. They stated there are "a few hundreds" of Western volunteers, mostly from Serbia and France, "half of them communists, half Nazis", fighting jointly for the "liberation of Russia from Ukrainian invasion".[434]


In March 2016, Germany's Bild reported that minutes from an October 2015 meeting of the "Interministerial Commission for the Provision of Humanitarian Aid for the Affected Areas of the Southeast of the Donetsk and Lugansk Regions" indicated that Russia was running militant-controlled parts of east Ukraine. According to Bild, "It is notable that no members of the self-declared people's republics in eastern Ukraine are on the commission".[435]

Reactions to the Russian invasion in Crimea

See also: Cold War II

Ukrainian response

Interim Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov accused Russia of "provoking a conflict" by backing the seizure of the Crimean parliament building and other government offices on the Crimean peninsula. He compared Russia's military actions to the 2008 Russia–Georgia war, when Russian troops occupied parts of the Republic of Georgia and the breakaway enclaves of Abkhazia and South Ossetia were established under the control of Russian-backed administrations. He called on Putin to withdraw Russian troops from Crimea and stated that Ukraine will "preserve its territory" and "defend its independence".[436] On 1 March, he warned, "Military intervention would be the beginning of war and the end of any relations between Ukraine and Russia."[437]

On 1 March, Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov placed the Armed Forces of Ukraine on full alert and combat readiness.[438]

On 16 September 2015 the Ukrainian parliament voted for the law that sets 20 February 2014 as the official date of the Russian temporary occupation of Crimean peninsula.[439][440] On 7 October 2015 the President of Ukraine signed the law into force.[441]

US and NATO military response

On 4 March 2014, the United States pledged $1 billion in aid to Ukraine.[442]

Russia's actions increased tensions in nearby countries historically within its sphere of influence, particularly the Baltic and Moldova. All have large Russian-speaking populations, and Russian troops are stationed in the breakaway Moldovan territory of Transnistria.[443] Some devoted resources to increasing defensive capabilities,[444] and many requested increased support from the U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which they had joined in recent years.[443][444] The conflict "reinvigorated" NATO, which had been created to face the Soviet Union, but had devoted more resources to "expeditionary missions" in recent years.[445]

US officials Assistant Secretary Nuland and Ambassador to Ukraine Pyatt greet Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Warsaw on 4 June 2014

NATO increasingly saw Russia as an adversary,[446] though officials hoped this would be temporary. Initial deployments in March and early April were restricted to increased air force monitoring and training in the Baltics and Poland, and single ships in the Black Sea.[446][447] On 16 April, officials announced the deployment of ships to the Baltic and Mediterranean Seas, and increasing exercises in "Eastern Europe". The measures were apparently limited so as not to appear aggressive.[448] Leaders emphasized that the conflict was not a new Cold War[449][450] but some analysts disagreed.[450][451] Others supported applying George F. Kennan's concept of containment to possible Russian expansion.[452][453] Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul said, "We are enduring a drift of disengagement in world affairs. As we pull back, Russia is pushing forward. I worry about the new nationalism that Putin has unleashed and understand that many young Russians also embrace these extremist ideas."[454]

Beginning 23 April 600 US troops from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team held bilateral exercises in Poland and the Baltic.[455] Plans were made for a communications mission to counter Russian propaganda in eastern Ukraine, improve internal Ukrainian military communication, and handle apparent Russian infiltration of the security services.[456]

Georgia intensified its push for entry into NATO. It had hoped to gain Membership Action Plan status in September.[457] It also expressed interest in a missile defence system via NATO.[458]

Baltic states

On 5 March the Pentagon announced, independently of NATO, that it would send six fighter jets and a refueling aircraft to augment the four already participating in the Baltic Air Policing mission.[459][460] The US rotation was due to last through the end of April. The Polish Air Force was scheduled to participate from 1 May through 31 August.

Black and Mediterranean Seas

An Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, the USS Truxtun, crossed into the Black Sea on 6 March to participate in long-planned exercises with Bulgaria and Romania.[lower-alpha 2][474] American officials stated that it was part of a routine deployment for exercises with the Bulgarian and Romanian navies.[475][476] The Truxtun left the Black Sea by 28 March, but some politicians argued that it should return as a show of support.[477] An additional 175 Marines were to be deployed to the Black Sea Rotational Force in Romania, though this was decided in late 2012.[478]

On 10 April, the guided missile destroyer USS Donald Cook entered the Black Sea to "reassure NATO allies and Black Sea partners of America's commitment to strengthen and improve interoperability while working towards mutual goals in the region", according to a Pentagon spokesman.[479][480] On 14 April, the ship was repeatedly buzzed by a Su-24 Russian attack aircraft.[481][482] The Donald Cook left the Black Sea on 28 April, leaving the USS Taylor.[483]

On 30 April, Canada redeployed the HMCS Regina from counter-terrorist operations in the Arabian Sea, likely to join Standing NATO Maritime Group 1, which had itself been reassigned to the eastern Mediterranean in response to events in Ukraine.[484]

Poland and Romania

NATO foreign ministers at a meeting in early April did not rule out stationing troops in countries near Russia, saying that Russia had "gravely breached the trust upon which our cooperation must be based".[445] Poland requested that "two heavy brigades" be stationed on its territory, to mixed responses; NATO considered increased support for Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Moldova.[491]

Relations with Russia

According to Stars and Stripes, the Atlas Vision exercise with Russia (planned for July) was cancelled.[497] The Rapid Trident exercise in western Ukraine, scheduled for the same time, was to proceed as planned,[497][498] as was the naval exercise Sea Breeze.[498]

France suspended most military cooperation with Russia and considered halting the sale of two Mistral-class warships it had been contracted to build.[499] Canada,[500] the UK,[501] and Norway[502] all suspended cooperation to some extent. On 1 April, NATO suspended all military and civilian cooperation with Russia.[503] Russian diplomatic access to NATO headquarters was restricted.[504]

On 8 May, Russia conducted a large-scale military drill simulating US/NATO nuclear attacks. Analysts considered it to be politically motivated to compete with NATO.[505][506]

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has called for more cooperation with Russia in the fight against terrorism following a deadly attack on the headquarters of a French satirical weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo in January 2015.[507]

Military actions in other countries



On 7 March 2014, the Turkish Air Force reported it scrambled six F-16 fighter jets after a Russian surveillance plane flew along Turkey's Black Sea coast.[509] It was the second incident of its kind reported that week, with one occurring the day before on 6 March. The Russian plane remained in international airspace. Diplomatic sources revealed that Turkey has warned Russia that if it attacks Ukraine and its Crimean Tatar population, it would blockade Russian ships' passage to the Black Sea.[510]

International diplomatic and economic responses

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Ukrainian members of parliament, 4 March 2014

Several members of the international community have expressed grave concerns over the Russian intervention in Ukraine and criticized Russia for its actions in post-revolutionary Ukraine, including the United States,[511] the United Kingdom,[512] France,[513] Germany,[514] Italy,[515] Poland,[516] Canada,[517] Japan,[518] the Netherlands,[519] Norway,[520] South Korea,[521] Georgia,[522] Moldova,[523] Turkey,[524] Australia[525] and the European Union as a whole, which condemned Russia, accusing it of breaking international law and violating Ukrainian sovereignty.[526] Many of these countries implemented economic sanctions against Russia or Russian individuals or companies, to which Russia responded in kind. Amnesty International has expressed its belief that Russia is fuelling the conflict.[527] The UN Security Council held a special meeting at the weekend on the crisis.[528] The G7 countries condemned the violation of Ukraine's sovereignty, and urged Russia to withdraw.[529][530] All G7 leaders are refusing to participate in it due to assumed violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, in contravention of Russia's obligations under the UN Charter and its 1997 basing agreement with Ukraine.[531]

In 2014, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly published a statement (the "Baku Declaration") discussing the events in Ukraine in detail. Specifically, it pointed out that Russia is a signatory of the Helsinki Accords and committed to observing its rules, including respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other member countries, as well as the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances that specifically guaranteed the integrity of Ukraine's borders. As noted by OSCE, "Russian Federation has, since February 2014, violated every one of the ten Helsinki principles in its relations with Ukraine, some in a clear, gross and thus far uncorrected manner, and is in violation with the commitments it undertook in the Budapest Memorandum, as well as other international obligations". OSCE condemned actions of the Russian Federation, calling them "coercion" and "military aggression" that are "designed to subordinate the rights inherent in Ukraine’s sovereignty to the Russian Federation’s own interests".[532] In 2016 OSCE deputy mission head in Ukraine Alexander Hug summarized the mission's two years of observations stating that "since the beginning of the conflict" the mission has seen "armed people with Russian insignia", vehicle tracks crossing border between Russia and Ukraine as well as talked to prisoners who were declaring themselves Russian soldiers.[533]

In January 2015, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) accepted a resolution that noted "the direct involvement of the Russian Federation in the emergence and worsening of the situation in these parts of Ukraine" and called both sides to fully respect the terms of Minsk Agreement.[534]

In June 2015, OSCE PA repeated condemnation of "Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, including its illegal annexation and occupation of Crimea" ("Helsinki Declaration").[535] On 28 August 2015 Poland's newly elected President Andrzej Duda said in Berlin during talks with German President Joachim Gauck and Chancellor Angela Merkel that Poland is already taking in large numbers of refugees from the Ukraine conflict as part of the EU's refugee programme, and does not intend to join in talks conducted since 2014 by France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine.[536] The policy of strategic partnership between Kiev and Warsaw requires further strengthening of military and technical cooperation,[537] best exemplified by the Lithuanian–Polish–Ukrainian Brigade,[538] but the more immediate task, informed Poland's State secretary Krzysztof Szczerski, is the Ukraine's constitutional reform leading to broad decentralization of power, in which Poland's post-Soviet experience is going to be used.[537]

In September 2015 the United Nations Human Rights Office estimated that 8000 casualties had resulted from the conflict, noting that the violence has been "fuelled by the presence and continuing influx of foreign fighters and sophisticated weapons and ammunition from the Russian Federation".[539]

Financial markets

The intervention caused turbulence in financial markets. Many markets around the world fell slightly due to the threat of instability. The Swiss franc climbed to a 2-year high against the dollar and 1-year high against the Euro. The Euro and the US dollar both rose, as did the Australian dollar.[540] The Russian stock market declined by more than 10 percent, whilst the Russian ruble hit all-time lows against the US dollar and the Euro.[541][542][543] The Russian central bank hiked interest rates and intervened in the foreign exchange markets to the tune of $12 billion to try to stabilize its currency.[540] Prices for wheat and grain rose, with Ukraine being a major exporter of both crops.[544] In early August 2014, the German DAX was down by 6 percent for the year, and 11 percent since June, over concerns Russia, Germany's biggest trade partner, would retaliate against sanctions.[545]

Reactions to the Russian intervention in Donbass

Russian protests

Protests in Moscow, 21 September 2014

Street protests against the war in Ukraine have arisen in Russia itself. Notable protests first occurred in March[554] and large protests occurred in September when "tens of thousands" protested the war in Ukraine with a peace march in downtown Moscow on Sunday, 21 September 2014, "under heavy police supervision".[555]

Critics of Vladimir Putin also express cautious criticism in the press and social media. Garry Kasparov, a consistent critic of Putin, whom he has called 'a revanchist KGB thug', has written[556] on the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 shootdown and called for Western action.[557][558]

An August 2014 survey by the Levada Center reported that only 13% of those Russians polled would support the Russian government in an open war with Ukraine.[559]

Former Russian vice-minister of foreign affairs Giorgi Kunadze said that if Western policy toward Russia had been tougher in 2008, during the Russo-Georgian War, "there would be no Crimea nor Lugandon" (the latter was a reference to the LPR).[560]

Pro-Russian supporters in Donetsk, 20 December 2014

Ukrainian public opinion

See also: Putin khuilo!

A poll of the Ukrainian public, excluding Russian-annexed Crimea, was taken by the International Republican Institute from 12–25 September.[561] 89% of those polled opposed 2014 Russian military intervention in Ukraine. As broken down by region, 78% of those polled from Eastern Ukraine (including Dnipropetrovsk Oblast) opposed said intervention, along with 89% in Southern Ukraine, 93% in Central Ukraine, and 99% in Western Ukraine.[561] As broken down by native language, 79% of Russian speakers and 95% of Ukrainian speakers opposed the intervention. 80% of those polled said the country should remain a unitary country.[561]

International reaction

In March 2014, Estonia's president Toomas Hendrik Ilves said: "Justification of a military invasion by a fabricated need to protect ethnic "compatriots" resuscitates the arguments used to annex Sudetenland in 1938."[562] During the Group of 20 (G-20) summit of world leaders in Brisbane, Australia in November 2014, an incident occurred during private meetings that became quite public. At the private leaders' retreat, held the weekend before the official opening of the summit, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper told Russian President Vladimir Putin "I guess I'll shake your hand but I have only one thing to say to you: You need to get out of Ukraine." The incident occurred as Putin approached Harper and a group of G-20 leaders and extended his hand toward Harper. After the event was over, a "spokesman for the Russian delegation said Putin's response was: 'That's impossible because we are not there'."[563]

See also


  1. Feffer (2014) "Article 11 maintains that a vote on impeachment must pass by two-thirds of the members, and the impeachment itself requires a vote by three-quarters of the members. In this case, the 328 out of 447 votes were about 10 votes short of three-quarters,"[90]
  2. Baldor (2014) "A U.S. warship is also now in the Black Sea to participate in long-planned exercises."[473]


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  2. Russian Military Forces Come Into Chonhar Village, Kherson Region. Ukrainian News, 8 March 2014
  3. "Eight border guards rescued, two missing after shelling in Sea of Azov". Kiev Post. 1 September 2014. Archived from the original on 1 September 2014. Retrieved 29 December 2014.
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    (Ukrainian) Ukrainian military released Chonhar in Kherson oblast, (26 December 2014)
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Further reading

  • Bremmer, Ian (1994). "The Politics of Ethnicity: Russians in the New Ukraine". Europe-Asia Studies. 46 (2): 261–283. doi:10.1080/09668139408412161. 
  • Hagendoorn, A.; Linssen, H.; Tumanov, S. V. (2001). Intergroup Relations in States of the former Soviet Union: The Perception of Russians. New York: Taylor & Francis. ISBN 1-84169-231-X. 
  • Legvold, Robert (2013). Russian Foreign Policy in the Twenty-first Century and the Shadow of the Past. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-51217-6. 

External links