The situation in eastern Ukraine is becoming clear at the moment, even as the situation in the remainder of the region remains fluid. Around 4 PM local time (Eastern Standard) Vladimir Putin ordered the Russian military forces to enter the breakaway republics in eastern Ukraine and conduct ‘peacekeeping operations.’ According to multiple sources, Russian forces have already begun entering both the LPR (Luhansk People’s Republic) and DPR (Donetsk People’s Republic). The start of this peacekeeping mission turns Minsk II to ash.
The Ukrainian government has been very slow in responding to what’s developing in the east, but it is imperative that Kiev release a statement soon. Meanwhile, the United States and its European allies are preparing sanctions packages. Latvia is calling for sanctions to be placed on Russia as punishment for the 30,000 troops it has in Belarus. Russia’s moves today are being correctly labeled as an annexation and attempt to redraw the borders of Ukraine. Only in a much more overt manner when compared to the Crimea annexation in 2014.
There is some news coming out of Donbas from independent sources, however, this will likely not last. I expect the region to be locked down electronically very soon, limiting the amount of information coming out of there.
As I said before, things are very fluid in the east now so I will probably put up a new update by 8 PM.
Vladimir Putin has announced his intention to formally recognize the independence of Donetsk & Luhansk, the breakaway areas of eastern Ukraine now controlled by pro-Russian separatists. In an address this afternoon, Putin did not discuss the Luhansk People’s Republic/Donetsk People’s Republic at length. Instead, he took the opportunity to lay the groundwork to justify a Russian invasion of Ukraine, most likely in the coming days. The speech was peppered with historical grievances and explanations of why Ukraine is not a sovereign nation-state.
Putin’s speech is still being digested at this hour, but the statement released by the Kremlin on recognizing independence of the self-declared republics in eastern Ukraine elicited a swift response from European leaders. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed such a move will “plainly be in breach of international law.” Germany and France have also condemned Putin’s apparent intentions.
There is much happening across Europe, Ukraine and Russia right now and I was caught in transit when all of these events started to happen. I’ll post a more thorough update between 5 and 6 PM Eastern Standard Time.
Earlier today, CBS News reported that a US official revealed US has intelligence confirming that Russian commanders have received orders to proceed with an invasion of Ukraine. Subunit commanders on the ground are now making plans for operations in their sectors of the battlefield. The process of orders going down the chain of command is similar to a telescope. The theater commander receives orders from Moscow explaining in detail the political and strategic objectives of the upcoming campaign. The theater commander’s battleplan is broad, encompassing the big picture. Orders then go out to division commanders who formulate ops plans for their respective operating areas. The process continues down the line to regiment, battalion commanders and so forth.
By itself, this report could be disregarded as inaccurate, or the result of intentional Russian disinformation. However, there have been some other developments today that indicate the Russians could very well be on the cusp of moving. Russia’s Aeronautical Information Center issued a NOTAM (a Notice to Airmen) Sunday which will close most of the airspace over the Sea of Azov starting at midnight between Sunday and Monday. There have also been numerous reports of Russian naval vessels entering the Sea of Azov throughout Sunday. Three amphibious assault ships were among the vessels heading north into the sea. Now, Russia has been running naval exercises in the Black Sea for over a week now and the initial NOTAMs and warnings to maritime traffic did indicate the Sea of Azov will be used for part of the exercise. Some restrictions were dropped earlier in the week, yet its possible that today’s notices are bringing them back into play.
Right now its after midnight in Ukraine. The NOTAM is active and all that can be done for the moment is to adopt a ‘wait and see’ posture between now and dawn. I’ll be posting another update later in the night.
US President Joe Biden and Russian leader Vladimir Putin spoke for an hour this morning. Although an administration official has said the discussion was “professional and substantive” the conversation has not changed the situation. “The two presidents agreed that our teams will stay engaged in the days ahead,” the official said. “Russia may decide to proceed with military action anyway. Indeed, that is a distinct possibility if it does the damage to Ukraine, European security and yes, Russia will be profound.” It has been accepted in Washington that military action is imminent at this point despite the threats of economic sanctions which have dominated Western responses in recent weeks. The main question remaining is: When will Russia move?
US officials have stated off the record that Wednesday is the most probable time for the commencement of hostilities. Personally, I’m in agreement. The exercises in Belarus and the Black Sea will both be reaching points where the it will be difficult for Western intelligence to determine if movements and actions are a part of the scripted exercises or the lead up to hostilities. Wednesday is not a given, either. An attack could be launched before then or after. In all likelihood, Putin’s original plan was probably not to attack after the Olympic games in Beijing ended. But given recent events, moving sooner will be beneficial. Russia’s strategic objectives have not changed, yet the fact NATO is now moving additional military forces into Eastern Europe gives him the incentive to start operations as soon as possible. Wednesday is most probable; however, it could come earlier in the week.
Today, the US State Department has ordered an additional reduction of personnel for the US Embassy in Kiev. With the threat of war looming, and US citizens having been warned to leave Ukraine immediately, this move was expected. A core team of diplomats and personnel (what was formerly called a skeleton staff) will remain in place at the embassy but it will not be enough to coordinate evacuation procedures for US citizens there after hostilities begin. The Pentagon has also ordered the withdrawal of 150 Florida National Guardsmen who have been in Ukraine since later 2021 as part of a training mission. Great Britain is also withdrawing its troops who have been training Ukrainian forces.
The fact that Russia more than likely intends to initiate military action against Ukraine is finally being accepted. For weeks now NATO, the European Union and the United States have been operating under the premise that diplomacy would break through and alleviate the crisis before it reached the critical stage. Now that it has become apparent Vladimir Putin has always intended for it to reach this point, NATO and the US are becoming serious about the defense of the alliance’s Eastern Flank. There is a significant amount of military activity going on in Eastern Europe. USAFE (United States Air Force Europe) is moving US warplanes into Romania and Poland to reinforce NATO air forces in the east. F-16s from Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany have arrived in Romania and F-15C Eagles from the 493rd Fighter Squadron/49th Fighter Wing have deployed to Lask Air Base in Poland. Great Britain is expected to deploy RAF assets to Romania as well as 1,000 troops and the US announced today that another 3,000 paratroopers will be moved to Poland by early next week.
Western governments are also advising their citizens to leave Ukraine as quickly as possible. The US, British and Israeli governments are just three of the many now issuing warnings as it becomes clear the amount of time for them to leave Ukraine could be running out.
Author’s Note: Very short update tonight and I apologize. Work interfered this afternoon. I had intended on a longer, more detailed update but unfortunately, that will have to wait until tomorrow. –Mike