On Sunday, Ukraine's military entered the center of Luhansk, one of two rebel-held cities in Eastern Ukraine. Rebels reportedly still control parts of Luhansk, but Ukrainian forces posted photos of the Ukrainian flag flying at a city police station.
This is the latest setback for the pro-Russia separatists who declared autonomous "people's republics" in Luhansk and Donetsk, 90 miles away, in April but have been steadily losing ground over the past month. In besieged Donetsk, separatist fighters are reportedly starting to dress in civilian clothes and carousing drunkenly around at night; three senior leaders of the separatist enclaves, all Russian nationals, have resigned or left the country over the past week.
Western officials and analysts are nervous about Russia's response to the separatists' dwindling fortunes. If Russian President Vladimir Putin believes "the rebels are about to get routed, we do have a problem," Eurasia Group analyst Cliff Kupchan tells The New York Times. Moscow's purportedly humanitarian convoy of 280 trucks is still on the Russia side of the border, and Russia maintains that it is not arming the rebels.
The new separatist prime minister of Donetsk, Aleksandr Zakharchenko, said in a statement that Russia was sending him reinforcements, including 150 armored vehicles and 1,200 troops who'd spent the summer training in Russia, however. "They are joining at the most crucial moment," he added. And last Thursday night, reporters for Britain's The Telegraph said they witnessed "a column of armored vehicles and military trucks" crossing from Russian into a remote area near Donetsk; they call this "the first confirmed sighting of such an incident by Western journalists."
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian and Russian foreign ministers met Sunday in Berlin with their French and German counterparts for talks on ending the fighting and paving the way for the Russian aid to make its way into Ukraine. "It was a difficult discussion but I believe and I hope that we made progress on some points," said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.