Meanwhile, In Ukraine
While the world’s attention is focused on Iraq, the situation in eastern Ukraine continues to slowly deteriorate, with the United States yesterday accusing the Russians of sending tanks to the separatists:
DONETSK, Ukraine — The State Department said Friday that Russia had sent tanks and other heavy weapons to separatists in Ukraine, supporting accusations Thursday by the Ukrainian government.
A convoy of three T-64 tanks, several BM-21 multiple rocket launchers and other military vehicles crossed the border near the Ukrainian town of Snizhne, State Department officials said. The Ukrainian Army reported Friday that it had destroyed two of the tanks and several other vehicles in the convoy.
“This is unacceptable,” said Marie Harf, the deputy State Department spokeswoman. “A failure by Russia to de-escalate this situation will lead to additional costs.”
Earlier, a Western official said that intelligence about the movement of the tanks and other weapons into Ukraine was shared on Friday with NATO allies. Secretary of State John Kerry complained this week about the flow of Russian arms to separatists in Ukraine in a phone call to Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister.
The spokesman for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, Dmitry S. Peskov, said Friday that a Ukrainian armored personnel carrier had crossed into Russia for unclear reasons and was abandoned there. The Russian state news agency reported that the Russian border service said the occupants had then fled back to Ukraine
At the meeting of the Group of 7 nations last week, President Obama warnedMr. Putin that the West would impose “additional costs” on Russia if its provocations were to continue.
The T-64 is an obsolescent tank no longer in active use by Russian forces, but still stored in southwest Russia.
“Russia will claim these tanks were taken from Ukrainian forces, but no Ukrainian tank units have been operating in that area,” the State Department said Friday. “We are confident that these tanks came from Russia.”
“We also have information that Russia has accumulated multiple rocket launchers at this same deployment site in southwest Russia, and these rocket launchers also recently departed,” the State Department added. “Internet video has shown what we believe to be these same rocket launchers traveling through Luhansk.”
Then, earlier today, a Ukrainian military plane was shot down, apparently by pro-Russian separatists, killing 49 people:
DONETSK, Ukraine — Forty-nine people, mostly Ukrainian military personnel, were killed Saturday when separatists shot down a military transport jet as it was landing in the eastern city of Luhansk, according to the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office. The death toll was the largest in a single incident for the Ukrainian military since the recent unrest began in the country’s east.
“On approach to the Luhansk airport a Ukrainian armed forces military transport Il-76 airplane was shot down with an antiaircraft rocket system,” the prosecutor general’s office said in a statement. “In addition to the nine crew members, 40 military personnel were on board. All of them died.”
The statement said the office had opened an investigation into what it called a terrorist act.
Video of the incident showed an explosion near the surface of the landing strip where the plane was said to be making its final approach into Luhansk. It was carrying troops being rotated into eastern Ukraine, military equipment and food, the ministry of defense said in a statement. The defense ministry gave no details of the casualties, but offered “sincere condolences to the parents, the relatives and loved ones of the soldiers in connection with this tragic and irreparable loss.”
An online post by a group called Information Support, which often conveys news from Ukraine’s armed forces in more detail than official statements do, said Ukrainian soldiers at the scene had found empty firing tubes for two shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles, and a third missile that had been activated but failed to fire.
At the very least, this would seem to indicate that the pro-Russian separatists in the east are not inclined to stand down in the wake of the election of President Potroshenko last month, and that the Russians are still actively seeking to undermine Ukrainian authority in the east. Where things go from here is anyone’s guess.