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May 28, 2015

On Wednesday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that Russia is still arming pro-Moscow separatists in Eastern Ukraine, despite a cease-fire agreement, and has its own forces in the country, too. "Russia is present in eastern Ukraine," he told The New York Times, citing "our own intelligence" as well as "open sources." Reuters reports that Russia appears to be preparing to send in a lot more troops and heavy arms, including tanks, missile launchers, and artillery.

Reuters is basing its report on visual confirmation from one its reporters, who observed four trains loaded with Russian troops and armaments arriving in southern Russia's Rostov region, then traveling on to the Kuzminsky firing range, 30 miles from the Ukraine border, which has been transformed into a makeshift military base. Most of the troops were wearing no insignia, and the plates and other identifying marks were removed from the tanks, Reuters reports, adding that an advocate for the families of Russian troops says the base is being used as a staging ground for troops headed to Ukraine.

Such camps have been sprouting up along the Ukraine border, something "anyone with access to Google Earth or Google Maps" can see, according to a report released Thursday by the Atlantic Council. The report, "Hiding in Plain Sight: Putin's War in Ukraine," uses social media, satellite images, and other open sources of data to prove Russia's meddling inside Ukraine. A Western official told The New York Times that Russia has moved about nine battalions close to Ukraine's border, and five more could be coming, meaning more than 10,000 Russian troops could be in Ukraine within weeks. Peter Weber

May 13, 2015
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On Tuesday, allies of slain Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov released a report on Russia's involvement in Ukraine's civil conflict, based on the research and notes Nemtsov left behind when still-unidentified gunmen murdered him outside the Kremlin in February. The posthumous report says that despite Moscow's repeated denial of direct involvement in Ukraine's conflict, 150 Russian soldiers died in fighting in Eastern Ukraine last year and another 70 were killed during an assault on Debaltseve by Moscow-aligned separatists in January and February.

Nemtsov was focusing on whether Russia was paying death benefits to the families of the killed soldiers, finding that in some cases they were not. That's because, the report said, the soldiers were made to officially resign before crossing over into Ukraine to "volunteer" with the separatists, apparently after being assured their families would be paid anyway in the case of death or disability.

“The report gathered definitive evidence of the Kremlin's military intervention in the conflict in Ukraine,” said Ilya Yashin, the editor of the report and a Nemtsov ally, at a news conference in Moscow. "We cannot prove that Nemtsov was killed for preparing this report, and we cannot prove that he was not killed for this reason.... We knew this was dangerous work." Peter Weber

April 8, 2015

Russian media widely reported the tragic story of a 10-year-old girl killed by Ukrainian government shelling in the Petrovsky region of Donetsk, in rebel-held eastern Ukraine. The only problem: The girl never existed, discovered BBC News reporters Natalia Antelava and Abdujalil Abdurasulov. Antelava spoke with people in the region, including the morgue director, and nobody knew the girl or recalled shelling, although they heard the story on TV.

Finally, a Russian journalist told Antelava that the girl is a fiction that they were forced to report. "You get used to lies in this war, but sometimes the cynicism, like right now, it's just mind-boggling," Antelava says in her dispatch, "because people that we talked to believe that a child has died, and that's the sort of information that they get that fuels hatred that drives this war." Watch her remarkable report below. —Peter Weber

March 2, 2015
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On Monday, the United Nations released its latest report on the war in Ukraine, putting the number of dead at above 6,000 and the number of wounded at nearly 15,000. The conflict had died down a bit in December, but an influx of military support from Russia had led to an escalation in fighting, dampening prospects for a peaceful resolution, U.N. Assistant Secretary General Ivan Simonovic said in Geneva.

"Credible reports indicate a continuing influx of heavy and sophisticated weaponry to armed groups in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, as well as foreign fighters, including from the Russian Federation," said the U.N. in its ninth report on the Ukraine conflict, focusing on the period from December through mid-February. "This has fueled the escalation of the conflict and new offensives by armed groups, undermining the potential for peace as armed groups extend their areas of control." The big losers have been Kiev and civilians. You can read the entire report at the U.N.'s website. Peter Weber

February 7, 2015
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Saying that the conflict between Kiev and pro-Russian separatists must be "resolved, not frozen," Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko assured Western leaders on Saturday that Kiev wants a ceasefire implemented sooner rather than later.

Led by Germany's Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, international officials are attempting to secure a peace agreement between Ukraine, Russia, and the separatists, which would implement the terms of a September 2014 ceasefire agreement that has since been repeatedly violated.

While Russia continues to deny that it is supporting the militants, The Associated Press notes that the country could agree to the terms of the peace agreement, in order to alleviate some of the sanctions the West has levied against Moscow in recent months. Sarah Eberspacher

February 5, 2015
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On Thursday, French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are traveling to Kiev, Ukraine's capital, with a peace initiative. On Friday, Merkel and Hollande will bring their plan to Moscow. The initiative is "based on the territorial integrity of Ukraine," Hollande said, adding, "It will not be said that France and Germany together have not tried everything, undertaken everything to preserve the peace."

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is also in Kiev on Thursday, as the U.S. is weighing whether to provide Ukraine with lethal aid to counter its Russia-backed insurgency. Vice President Joe Biden is heading to Brussels on Friday to discuss the Ukraine situation with NATO allies. Peter Weber

December 2, 2014
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Ukraine's government troops have agreed to a new cease-fire with pro-Russian separatists in the Luhansk region.

Under the new agreement, hostilities will cease Friday, according to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Igor Plotnitsky, the leader of Luhansk's rebel movement, also told Russia's Interfax news agency about the cease-fire, which will cover between 10 and 13 miles.

Ukraine has reached cease-fire agreements with separatists in the past, but none of them have lasted. After a cease-fire in September, hundreds more have been killed in eastern Ukraine. Meghan DeMaria

October 16, 2014
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Russia's economy has been hit pretty hard by economic sanctions from the U.S. and Europe over its annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula and military support for separatist rebels in Eastern Ukraine. On Wednesday, two days before the latest round of peace talks with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko begin in Milan, Russian President Vladimir Putin played the nuke card in an interview with the Serbian newspaper Politika.

"We hope that our partners will realize the recklessness of attempts to blackmail Russia, will remember the risks that a spat between major nuclear powers incurs for strategic stability," Putin said. "For our part, we are ready to develop constructive cooperation on the principles of equality and real consideration of mutual interests." How can Russia and Ukraine make peace when "one-sided, illegitimate restrictive measures" are "complicating dialogue"? Putin asked.

Russia officially denies that it is aiding the pro-Moscow rebels. The cease-fire in Eastern Ukraine has barely held, with hundreds killed in shelling and other attacks. Peter Weber

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