It seems as though Ukraine’s govt has been making some catastrophic mistakes relating to the negotiations with Russia and the “separatists” in the east. Not sure what Poroshenko’s game plan is, but it looks capitulatory or shady, at least. All the Minsk deals were negotiated on Kyiv’s part by Kuchma, who is the murderous former president who first helped get Yanuk elected in 2004 before the Orange Revolution, and then has also been a mostly supporter of Yanuk while he was in power. He has always been closely tied to Russia. Why him as choice of a negotiator? Certainly he has the Russian links, but far too many, it would seem, and he seems to be selling out Ukraine’s interests. Working out last week the deal giving high degree of autonomy to Luhansk and Donetsk is merely rewarding aggression. Period. Not to mention an amnesty for the scumbags there who kidnapped, tortured, and murdered locals they did not like, as well as holding journalists and OSCE teams (some with diplomatic status) hostage. They deserve nothing but contempt and hard jail time. As for today’s agreement in Minsk for pulling Ukrainian and “separatist” troops back and making a 30 km buffer zone—precisely in who’s interest is this? Ukrainian troops are being told to vacate parts of Ukraine and rewarding the Russian insurgents (who are Russian, or were totally installed by them). Again, this looks like capitulation. The regions in question are less than a third ethnic Russian, and February polling showed that even those were largely not in favor of separatism. So we are talking about a minority of less than a sixth of the population (even less than that) determining (thanks to the “vanguard” of Russian Spetsnaz troops, “on leave” Russian soldier mercenaries, a handful of Russian neo-Nazis with Putin’s blessing, and then a large number of actual Russian military battalion task forces) that these regions will be marginally independent and then certainly annexed in a short time by Russia after the appropriate bogus referenda are held? This is sick. Yes, things did not go well for Ukrainian forces in the final week of fighting due to the introduction of a large number of regular Russian forces, but instead of staying the course and fighting on, this smacks of surrendering part of Ukraine’s territory (another piece after Crimea). 19th century style aggression (with the proper denials) seems to pay. And this is not the end of Putin’s game plan.
On 9 September the Dutch accident investigation team released its preliminary report on the downing of Malaysian Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine. The results were based on the evidence seen by them and Australian investigators at the crash site (despite Russian “rebel” efforts to delay their entry for as long as possible), as well as the findings from the cockpit voice recorder and flight date recorders, which they have and had been exploiting (despite nonsensical Russian and Russian troll baseless accusations that the black boxes had been either taken away to the US or were falsified). It turns out that they contained little information anyway, because there were no discussions of any problem in the cockpit since the plane was essentially instantly destroyed in flight.
More useful were the recordings of the Dnipropetrovsk ATC radar with MH17 before the shootdown and concurrent phone conversations between that ATC and the Russian ATC centre in Rostov, to which Dnipropetrovsk was handing off control at the time of the shootdown. This is an important point—Russian ATC was taking control of the plane at the time. One interesting note is that when the Ukrainian ATC could no longer raise MH17 by radio, Rostov said “No, it seems that its target started falling apart.” Odd choice of words, but considering that ATC personnel talke amongst themselves and with aircraft in English, it could just have been an unfortunate word choice. But as the radar screen shots provided at the July Russian MOD propaganda briefing on the downing of MH17 showed, the plane did indeed start showing about five distinct returns as it then disappeared from the radar.
This is consistent with the Dutch findings that the cockpit area had been hit by “multiple high-energy objects from outside the aircraft.” This is fully consistent with findings reported here previously on 29 July that showed the left cockpit panel was riddled with scores of shrapnel holes that had entered the right side, ripping through the cockpit, and exiting the left side. The instantaneous structural damage ripped the plane apart, per the investigators.
As for the ridiculous multiple variations of Russian theories thrown out in public to confuse the discussion, mislead the gullible, and just say “it was anybody but us,” those versions can go into the dustbin where they belonged all along. There was no phantom Ukrainian Su-25 (ground attack) plane that shot it down (which in any case was not on radar and can only reach half the altitude of the 777). Even if some plane had used an air-to-air missile to bring it down (which was not the case), those IR homing missiles would have hit one of the engines, which would have resulted in relatively low-energy shrapnel hitting parts of the rear of the plane—not the cockpit. It was hit with an SA-11 BUK missile that proximity detonated to the right front of the aircraft. A hit from that position would have indicated a launch point near where a SA-11 TELAR had been seen that morning and then the next day leaving toward the Russian border, in the town of Torez—an area under Russian “rebel” control.
It happens that an intrepid Russian investigator has done what so many others have done in the previous months, and sifted through photos and videos people (often Russians) have uploaded, and matched up particular unique marks on vehicles to come up with a perfect match.
The Russian investigative journalist Iggy Ostanin dug into videos people had uploaded from 23 and 24 June showing a convoy of SA-11 vehicles moving south from Kursk to the area near Belgorod, close to the Ukrainian border. Thanks to VKontakte page uploads from a sergeant in the 53rd Air Defense Missile Brigade from Kursk, and shots form the convoy movements, it was possible to absolutely determine the SA-11 unit moving toward Ukraine was the 53rd. Moreover, paint markings, including one partial bit from a side (bort) number on the SA-11 TELAR videoed in Torez on 17 July—the day MH17 was shot down—clearly show the TELAR there was one of those from the 53rd Brigade seen a few weeks earlier on the Russian roadmarch.
As if the evidence were not compleelign enough before, not there is a perfect matchup. Moreover, this was, as previously stated here, not some equipment the Russians provided to the “rebels,” since it takes many months to years to become proficient at operating an SA-11 TELAR—particularly in singleton mode–but was manned by fully professional Russian military crews. But Russia sticks to its story line that it was the Ukrainians who shot down the 777. Unabashed bold-faced liars.
A retweet today by Maksim Shevchenko—a Russian journalist and opinion leader who is a shameless cheerleader for Putin who puts out the most ludicrous nonsense when he appears all too often on Ekho Moskvy—forwarded an item from Konstantin Rykov. He is a Russian Duma member and one of Putin’s top propaganda henchmen (along with Dmitry Kiselev). Rykov, who runs numerous websites as his profession, including his “Internet Review” and internet sites for Russian state ORT First Channel TV, posted an article that originated with Kiselev’s RIA-Novosti, and was titled “’Special Operation’ Considered Inappropriate by 58% of Ukrainians, 35% Crave Victory By the Powers” and noted a nationwide poll taken from 26 August to 1 September that asked 1,820 people in all regions except Crimea and Luhansk whether they considered continuing the AntiterroristOperation as appropriate. As the title says, a majority of Ukrainians said it was not, and said “no, Ukrainians need peace.” The poll was conducted, according to the article, by a company called USS Research.
The only minor problem with the poll and the story is that a rudimentary internet search comes up with absolutely no information on any polling company called USS Research. The closest things were a research department of US Steel and a business listing with no information at all on some company called USS Research in Pennsylvania. This is just another cheap Russian propaganda attempt to show that the majority of Ukrainians are against fighting for the country’s territorial integrity. Another Kremlin lie to be added to the list.
As for Rykov, he might have to think this one over at his luxury villa near Nice on the Cote d’ Azur. Like so many in the Duma and Putin’s inner circle who spout all their anti-EU and anti-US propaganda, they tend to have luxury property in Europe or places like Miami.
Just two days after US President Obama was in Estonia talking about security guarantees, with the NATO Summit in Wales reinforcing the point, Putin has begun his campaign against the Balts and essentially flipped the US and NATO off. On Friday an Estonian counterintelligence and counter-smuggling officer, Eston Kohver, who was operating in the southeast of the country, was kidnapped at gunpoint by some Russians and spirited over the border. The Estonian Internal Inelligence Service (KAPO in Estonian) claim radio jammers and a smoke grenade were used in the detention. Russia’s FSB claims he was detained in Russia with a pistol, 5,000 Euros, secret recording equipment, and documents that were some kind of spying plan. (This is about as believable as the FSB detention last year of an alleged CIA agent in Moscow apprehended with a 1970s wig, written instructions for the Russian he was allegedly going to recruit, and equipment including a boyscout compass, since apparently the CIA does not own any smartphones with GPS.)
This is a clear Putin “in your face” challenge to Obama and NATO in general. Indeed this is the danger. Not that Russian forces will roll into Baltic countries. That is the kind of thing that NATO is prepared for and is beefing up its defences for, and what Article 5 is all about. The real danger is that Putin will try something much like what has worked in Crimea and eastern Ukraine—send in some GRU or other professional teams to play the role of “concerned ethnic Russians” there, bring in some local ethnic Russians as support, and gradually increase the number of Russian forces there in the guise of mercenaries (equipped naturally with the latest Russian weaponry). How NATO would react is hard to tell, since even with tones of evidence, as they have in the case of Russian military involvement in Ukraine, Russia will keep denying and saying “it’s not us—you’re lying.” Given the pitiful response of NATO, the EU, and US in Ukraine (or rather lack thereof), I would wager that the response in the face of Putin’s new style of warfare would be underwhelming.
In recent days Ukrainian forces have had some significant setbacks in the east, but definitely not at the hands of the “separatist” forces there, who have been largely holed up in Donetsk and Luhansk. Russian forces have pushed (after artillery preparation of the battlefield) along the coast to take control of Novoazovsk, on the road toward Mariupol, where the locals have been building antitank ditches and fortifications in preparation for a further Russian move. Further north, especially near Luhansk, the tide has been turning due to the introduction of additional heavy Russian units in the form of entire battalion tactical groups. Anyone who claims these are just some local separatists who happened to have gotten some vehicles is not mistaken—they are outright liars. There are a number of these battalion groups now operating in the area and enjoying some success, as well as a lot of regular Russian artillery units, professionally deployed, and equipped with 2S1, 2S3, and the fairly new 2S19 SP howitzers, as well as multiple rocket launchers.
Today a video taken from a bus on the road from Krasnodon (about 10 km from the Russian border) to Luhansk showed such a battalion tactical group, made up of a battalion of BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicles (about 30), roughly two companies of T-72 tanks (about 20 total), several 2S1 and 2S3 SP howitzers, some engineer vehicles, a number of MTLB-U variants and MTLBs, and the better part of a materiel support battalion, with dozens of trucks and over a dozen fuel trucks. Some Russian trolls commenting on the video said it was old film from Crimea, though the regular Russian units in Crimea eventually did not conceal bort numbers, there were no large BMP-equipped units like this operating there and no tanks, and most of all, the trees in this new video are in late summer foliage (not the no foliage that would have been in Crimea invasion videos from February and March).
Of note, to those who say this was just a “few” pieces of captured Ukrainian equipment, the fuel trucks, while lacking number plates and markings (like all the armoured vehicles missing bort numbers), they still had content marking signs and the bold lettering OGNEOPASNO (Flammable) written in Russian (not Ukrainian). End of argument.
This is more regular Russian military entering the fight in Ukraine. Can we now say finally it is an invasion?
At the hot battle of Ilovaysk, correspondent for the Russian govt-associated LifeNews blatant propaganda network demonstrates their typical style by wearing full camouflage, with the addition of a Press patch. The AK-74 with BG-25 grenade launcher resting on the wall probably is not from one of the “separatist” soldiers in the fight, since you would want to keep that in your hands. My guess would be it is his.
In the video of the fighting, the Russian forces are seen firing a variety of weapons from a schoolyard (naturally the Ukrainians would get the bad press for damage to the school when they shoot back). Weapons include new model AK-74s, all with under-barrel grenade launchers, RPG-7s, some firing the thin and relatively new OG-7V antipersonnel fragmentation grenade, the RPG-22, and RPG-26.
It is absolutely clear to everyone now, except for total idiots and Kremlin trolls (who in most cases know better but spout the party line), that Russian military forces are actively fighting in eastern Ukraine.
In addition to the two BMD-2s captured near Luhansk a few days ago from the 76th VDV Division, it turns out quite a few soldiers from that division and maybe some other units have been killed and wounded fighting in Ukraine. A funeral was held today in Pskov, just a few days after Defence Minister Shoigu was in the city to officially present the Order of Suvorov to the formation for courage and bravery during combat successful operations. Not like a normal funeral, as this was guarded by police and held in secrecy. Afterwards, journalists from Dozhd and other free media outlets went in to film the fresh graves (which were servicemembers), but were set upon and roughed up by thugs who threatened them and ordered them to leave. A number of women have appeared in media complaining that their husbands or boyfriends or sons from the division have disappeared, or were killed, with one asking the Ukrainians for forgiveness for her son having fought there against Ukraine. Some of the women said their loved ones had told them they were being sent out on exercises prior to their disappearance. Another version put out by the military a few days earlier was that soldiers had been killed in a training accident. Meanwhile, about two weeks ago locals in St Petersburg say transports arrived there at a major military hospital with about 100 wounded.
Noteworthy is that VKontakte accounts of most soldiers who were on paperwork recovered by the Ukrainians from the two BMDs it captured have been deactivated, though lots of people were able to access them before deactivation to take plenty of screenshots.
Today a couple of columns of Russian armored vehicles entered Ukraine from Russia—one with at least seven tanks and a couple of BMPs in the south, and another southeast of Luhansk which included four T-72B tanks—one of which had the new Russian Kontakt-5 reactive armour—plus three trucks towing D-30 howitzers, two BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicles, one Strela-10 (SA-13) air defence missile system, and four MTLB armored vehicles (two with ZU-23 guns mounted on top). The convoy was geolocated in the town of Sverdlovsk heading north toward Luhansk. This is probably the latest batch of kit that Russian government mercenaries (taken mostly right form the military and made into “private” contract fighters) were trained on at the Russian military training area near Rostov.
However, more active duty Russian soldiers showed up in Ukraine yesterday, in the form of 10 from the 98th VDV Division in Kostroma who were captured by the Ukrainians in the town of Zerkalnoe, 22 kilometers from the Russian border. They were shown on Ukrainian TV being questioned about how they ended up there. They nearly all said they had been brought to near Rostov on 16 August, were told to paint out their vehicle bort numbers, and awakened early n 24 August and told they were going on an exercise (with only the officers being told they were going into Ukraine). They knew they had crossed over, and it became clearer when they were engaged by Ukrainian forces. The platoon commander in one vehicle fled, leaving his crew to fend for themselves.
Most telling is that the Russian Defence Ministry confirmed they were Russian soldiers, but said they had just been patrolling near the Ukrainian border and got lost. A slight navigational error on the part of normal Russian soldiers is perhaps possible, but VDV soldiers actually get a good amount of training in land navigation, and crossing a border and driving 22 kilometers through Ukrainian villages certainly should have rung some warning bells if they had taken a wrong turn (not to mention some carried military satnav systems). They were not lost (just like their 76th Div brothers). They were sent into Ukraine. Tonight relatives of the soldiers taken prisoner were trying to meet with the division commander in Kostroma.
It seems the Russian military façade may be cracking a bit. The soldiers did not seem very gung-ho about their mission and were concerned they had been sent on a combat mission while being told it was an exercise. Families and friends are voicing their concerns about being lied to about their loved ones being taken prisoner or killed and everything being covered up. There are direct parallels with the way deaths of Soviet troops killed in Afghanistan in the 1980s were kept secret to conceal the level of involvement. Certainly Putin will continue sending in regular forces as well as his government mercenaries, but he will start facing increasing discontent from military families as well as some less than enthusiastic soldiers.
How quickly things change. When Russia’s puppet, Yanuk, was in power, the “fraternal” Ukrainians were the greatest thing going. A year ago in his message to Yanukovych on Ukrainian Independence Day Putin ” reconfirmed the indestructible long-standing traditions of friendship and good neighbourliness of both countries.”
Now that the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians booted out the kleptocrat and turned to Europe, for Putin and his people, and for an increasing number of regular Russians who buy into their crap, Ukrainians are Nazi Fascist vermin who must be exterminated. Leading the charge the other day was unofficial Kremlin ideologist Aleksandr Dugin who called for at least a partial genocide (using that word) against those Ukrainians who he says climbed out of a sewer.
But such words, as dangerous as they are, especially when accompanied by tanks, MRLs, BMPs, and BMDs (as they are) have the effect of making Putin’s Russia look ridiculous to the overwhelming majority of the world, have led to its self-imposed isolation, and have had the effect of pushing the Ukrainians even further to the West. Invasions have a way of doing that.
Today a large Ukrainian flag was unfurled from a Moscow bridge near the Kremlin. Five people were arrested, as people there always are for carrying a Ukrainian flag (I know some of the brave people who have been). Yet another Putin violation of his worthless Constitution (Article 31 guarantees right to peaceful protest). Where else in the world would you be arrested for showing the flag of another supposedly “fraternal” country? According to Russia, it is not at war with Ukraine (total bullshit). In cases of war, as during WW-II, it would have been illegal to show a Nazi flag (though under Putin it is now semi-acceptable as neo-Nazis are one of his nationalistic power bases), but they say they are not at war with Ukraine. Pure Fascism, and the arrests again show Russia IS at war with Ukraine and the Ukrainian people.
The Russian aid convoy has been an interesting but confusing thing to follow. Nobody is certain what it brought into Ukraine or what it may have taken out.
Some 280 trucks left the area around Moscow a couple of weeks ago, drove to near the Ukrainian border in Voronezh, broke into two parts with one going down to Rostov (where the Russians have stockpiled military equipment and are training troops for operations in Ukraine), and then waited near the Russian-controlled Donetsk crossing point (the town of Donetsk on the Russian side, that is), where for a couple of days the ICRC and OSCE looked at some of the trucks, and media showed that many of them had just about nothing inside. This had been noted earlier, though the Russian Foreign Ministry said that is because they were new trucks that could not carry much during break-in, which is pure nonsense (speaking from experience as once who drove such rigs many years ago). However, the ICRC did not sanction the convoy and was not prepared to accompany it as there had been no firm security guarantees.
But then on the morning of 22 August over 100 crossed into Ukraine anyhow, without the permission of the Ukrainians or ICRC participation. Video showed also a number of white painted military fuel trucks, with the flammable warning signs on them (probably not petrol for poor civilian locals–more likely for the Russian fighters’ T-64s, BM-21s, BMPs, or the Russian 76th Airborne Division’s remaining BMDs in Luhansk). Taking back roads under Russian control, it made its way to Luhansk and to supposedly Donetsk. Some video showed one truck with a single small pallet of bags of something being unloaded. Interestingly, the convoy allegedly had a few tonnes of salt as well, even though the Donbas has always been a large producer of salt (Slovyansk–originally Solyanoe–has a number of salt lakes, and Soledar has huge active salt mines). Like bringing sand to Saudi Arabia.
On the 23rd, supposedly all trucks had reentered Russia. The problem is that nobody knows what was on them in either direction. Given that the international inspectors had last seen the trucks the day before they moved in, and many of them were virtually empty, it is possible that anything could have been loaded into them in the intervening time. Nobody knows if, or what was loaded to the nearly empty vehicles. It also is not certain what was taken out of Ukraine. Some reports say that a number of trucks loaded up at the Topaz plant in Donetsk, which is where the very capable Kolchuga (chainmail) passive aircraft detection system is produced. This would be something of interest to the Russians for sure, though they would be hard to conceal in a regular trailer truck since they are mounted on Ural trucks typically. Also, it is unclear whether any would have been able to make it to Donetsk given the Ukrainian encirclement of the city. Not very likely.
It is interesting though that when the trucks were shown exiting Ukraine through the Russian-controlled border crossing point, there was a Soviet flag flying there. Indeed, many of the trucks had flown red Soviet-style flags but with a St George on horseback in the corner where the hammer and sickle usually go (maybe the new Putin pseudo-USSR banner?). But the one at the crossing point was clearly old Soviet. This of course has been seen many times in Moscow government rallies (along with Nazi symbols), and with the Russian fighters in eastern Ukraine, but this was rather prominent. It says where their heads are.
Although there has been a mountain of evidence already that Russian Spetsnaz and other troops have been the vanguard of the “popular uprising” in eastern Ukraine from the start, and that Russia has been training personnel and sending in government mercenaries with heavy armaments including T-64B tanks, BMPs, BTRs, BM-21 MRLs, various tube artillery, SA-13 and SA-11 SAM systems (reported previously here based on peculiarities of vehicles noted heading to the Ukrainian border and the identical ones seen a day later in Ukrainian cities), and has been conducting artillery strikes on Ukrainian forces from just inside Russian territory, the most compelling evidence to date came to light just yesterday. A group of combat vehicles were engaged by Ukraine’s 24th Mech Brigade near Luhansk late yesterday, and during the fighting two BMD-2 airborne infantry fighting vehicles were damaged and captured as their crews fled.
One of the vehicles bore the side (bort) number 275. Contents of the vehicles included a lot of vehicle and crew documentation, credit and debit cards, club cards, a driver’s license, a passport, and more, showing that the vehicles and crew were from V/Ch 74268, which is the 234th Assault Storm (Parachute) Regiment of the 76th Assault Storm (VDV) Division, based in Pskov on the Estonian border (this is a unit near and dear to my heart which I know rather well, having spent a couple of days at it a number of years ago on an arms control inspection). Russian field rations produced earlier this year were also in the vehicles. Credit cards included some issued in Pskov, and a card for a club in Belgorod with the name of one soldier was among the haul, which is telling since parts of the 76th VDV division have been located near that city just across the border from Kharkiv off and on since March (that was previously reported on this site based in part on presence of several new BMD-4 vehicles that had unloaded with other BMDs from a train there, since that number of the rare BMD-4 is only found in the 234th VDV Regiment). Vehicle documentation showed the captured BMD-2s to be from the 2nd Platoon of the 1st Parachute Company. Other dirty and well worn booklets and documentation had listings of personnel in the platoons, their personal weapons assigned, with serial numbers, an inventory record for a 9M39 (SA-18 MANPADS missile), and the notebook of platoon commander Guards Senior Lieutenant Pavel Popov. Document entries for the personnel logs were from recent months while weapon logs and servicing booklets had entries going back over a decade and up to the 2014.
The Russian Defence Ministry in a briefing ridiculed the evidence, stating that it is all a Ukrainian fake, and said that the Russian military has not used those document formats for five years, and that the documents in question would not be carried in a vehicle in any case. This is another outright lie. The documents in question are totally correct in format, and are still done that way as they have been done for decades. Those who contend such things can be fabricated on a computer know nothing of the documents in question, and the poor quality paper in these documents and notebooks would destroy any printer. As for being carried in a vehicle, they absolutely would be, particularly given that the platoon commander would have to maintain documents on his personnel and all assigned weapons. My many years of experience analyzing Soviet and Russian military documentation show these to be absolutely genuine.
One particular notebook details training themes in recent weeks, which again are consistent with the way things are done and recorded. Training included battalion on the march, in the attack, and most recently on 1 August was training on rail transport rules. This would suggest that these elements of the 234th, which had been previously on the Ukrainian border for months but had returned for a time to Pskov during Putin’s trumpeted “withdrawal,” came back to the border region in early August. Prior to a move units would receive such a block of training.
The bort number on BMD 275 (whose number indicated it is from the second platoon, which would typically include vehicles ending in 4, 5, and 6) had obviously been hastily and crudely painted out to hide the Russian origin, as has been done with vehicles “donated” to the Russian fighters in the east.
Information I have not seen the primary source for, so cannot vouch for personally, indicates that the wife of one officer from the 234th had written on social media that their husbands had said they were going on an exercise into Ukraine, but they had heard nothing from them for days and were crying at home.
The most damning evidence is that the names in the documentation can be easily checked against social media accounts—primarily the Russian VKontakte one—where a number of the same soldiers are seen to really be based in the 234th VDV Regiment. Some have entries going back several years, showing that these were not some new accounts made up as part of an elaborate Ukrainian propaganda hoax (unless they already thought this all out a few years ago). Senior Lieutenant Popov’s account is especially interesting, with a lot of photos on it showing his platoon on maneuvers while they were in Kaliningrad Oblast in September 2013 while participating in ZAPAD-2013 (which basically rehearsed an invasion of the Baltic countries). The 234th did in fact participate in that exercise in Kaliningrad.
One last note: on the Kremlin website a decree from Putin was issued on 18 August awarding the 76th VDV Division the Order of Suvorov (a fairly significant award) for “successfully carrying out combat assignments of the command and display of courage and heroism by its personnel.” (Perhaps it will now be revoked given that some of those personnel ran away and allowed their vehicles to be captured by Ukrainian “Banderovtsy.”)
As if it was not clear before given the wealth of evidence, Russia is actively involved in fighting a war against Ukraine on Ukrainian territory—not just arming some local proxies.
We don’t usually repost entire articles, but this one from The World Post (of the Huffington Post) on 18 August is right on. Strobe Talbott, former Deputy Secretary of State in the Clinton years, just aced and interview about Russian activities in Ukraine. Talbott has obviously drastically changed his assessments of the nature of at least Putonian Russia. He used to be a very liberal writer for Time, but is an impeccable Russian speaker, being the one who translated Khrushchev’s memoirs into English for publication. That said, even during his State Dept tenure in the 90s he was often extremely liberal and gave Russia every benefit of the doubt, no matter what it seemed to do. It cannot be said that he is, in any way, an enemy of Russia or the Russian people.
However, now he has come to the very realistic conclusion that Russia is not only actively waging war in Ukraine, but that its goals extend far beyond that conflict, which is totally of its making. A notable quote on the situation is, “It is an invasion that is already well in place. It is detrimental to managing the situation to play along with the transparent falsehood that the Russians are putting out that they have not invaded Ukraine.”
Naturally Talbott was attacked in comments by some from the obvious Russian troll brigades. Clear from their use of all the right phrases and buzz words and sticking to the party line talking points, such as equating him to State Dept spokeswoman Jen Psaki, who has become in Russia the symbol of “evil America” out to get poor Russia. Demonized is more the correct term as they use some very crude and sick portrayals of her. Russians all know her from the propaganda, though the average Brit or American would have no clue who she even is.
On 12 August, a large (roughly 280 truck) Russian aid convoy left from near Moscow enroute to eastern Ukraine. Unspecified food and supplies on the trucks were allegedly donated by Moscow area residents, which is rather doubtful since many of them (at least outside the capital) are themselves in need of aid, particularly after Putin has made Russia a pariah and sanctions have been hit by Russian countersanctions that forbid the import of just about anything foreign into Russia, already resulting in empty shelves and tripling of some food prices). But I digress.
The convoy set off from the installation of the 2nd Guards Motorized Rifle Division (Tamanskaya Divisiya), one of in Naro-Fominsk, where some troops from the division had posted pictures of it forming up before their VK social media accounts were deleted, and video was taken of the huge truck formation by a passing vehicle as it was still in the motor pool. Most of the mainly Kamaz trailer trucks were military trucks hastily painted white, with most having their licence plates removed and bearing no markings. A few UAZ-452 and Gazele vehicles had red crosses and a few trucks were noted flying the flag of the Red Cross. A few were in markings of the Ministry of Emergency Situations (MChS), though most were just repainted military trucks. Some were painted with the pro-Russian “separatist” “Kolorado” ribbon, which indicates there is no impartiality on the part of the organizers (which after all is the Russian government.
Interestingly at the end of the rows of trucks, which were being prepared to be led by Russian military VAI (Military Automotive Inspectorate) cars, there was a truck with a 76N6 CLAM SHELL radar on telescoping mast, which is used with S-300 air defence missile variants (SA-10 and SA-20), though, it is not clear whether this “aid” was joining the convoy.
The people on the convoy are all dressed in tan t-shirts and shorts (similar to the Afrika Korps uniform), and all were fit, clearly showing that those on the trip are not Russian aid workers or even MChS, who are often not prime physical specimens. Indeed, one soldier from the Tamanskaya Division posted a picture of himself in the shorts in front of some of the trucks before his VK account was also removed.
It set off this morning and by evening was reportedly near Voronezh, not too far from the Ukrainian border.
Of note, Ukraine has agreed in principle to allowing in humanitarian aid, but has not authorized Russia to do so. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) noted on 11 August that it was talking with Ukraine and Russia about aid but said it will deliver any aid, and needs information from Russia as to what it is bringing, and needs solid security guarantees since its people work without armed escorts. Russia has provided no information, and indeed in a 12 August press release the ICRC said it had no information about the 280 vehicle convoy and had nothing to do with it. The Russian Red Cross director said on 12 August that there were no Russian Red Cross people involved with the operation.
Given that there are tens of thousands of Russian troops poised now only a few kilometers from the Ukrainian border, the convoy could conceivably pick up “escort” when it arrives to cross into Ukraine. Most territory from the border to Luhansk or Donetsk is now Ukrainian controlled, and Ukraine says it will not let an unauthorized convoy enter.
What is Putin’s game here? Could be any number of bad answers, though sending in pure humanitarian aid, especially when in military trucks operated by military personnel is not a good sign. Sure, some trucks were opened for cameras showing some pallets of juice and baby milk (shades of Saddam 1990), though what is further up in the trucks, or in the hundreds not shown, is a mystery. Possibly more supplies for the Girkin and other fighters, or weapons for the 1200 military “humanitarian” drivers. Or the whole exercise would be meant to provoke the Ukrainians into using force to an illegal (under any understanding of international law) border crossing, which would give Putin the pretext to use his forces near the border to intervene. Bad situation in all cases. But his Spetsnaz and mercenaries in eastern Ukraine are on the ropes and it was always assumed he would use military force to prevent losing his latest imperial ambition.
Though a lot of the fuselage pieces from Malaysian flight 17 shot down over eastern Ukraine have been cut up and removed by the Russians controlling the site, enough people were able to access the site before international investigators were allowed in, and were able to take sufficient photos of the wreckage to be able to ascertain certain objective facts about the shootdown.
Naturally Russia continues putting out ever more versions of the shootdown to blame anybody but themselves, saying it was caused by an air-to-air missile fired by a mystery Ukrainian fighter (notably by an Su-25 ground attack aircraft that cannot get anywhere near the altitude of the 777), or by various Ukrainian SA-11 TELARS that allegedly were in Ukrainian-held areas near Donetsk (even though there are no indication s any Ukrainian SA-11s were thee, much less active on 17 July), or any of other versions. They insist the Russian-operated SA-11 BUK TELAR seen, photographed, and videoed in Torez (a fully Russian-controlled area about 15 km to the southeast of the town of Hrabovo where the wreckage landed), which was noted as launching from there based on contrail photos, was confirmed by US intelligence as having been the location from which an SA-11 was fired at the time of the shootdown, and which was confirmed by COL Girkin in his VK page boast right after the event (when he thought it was a Ukrainian An-26), was something that was a US or Ukrainian fabrication.
But the fuselage clearly indicates that the explosion that brought down MH17 was not an air-to-air missile, which would have been heat-seeking so would have gone for one of the wing-mounted engines. Furthermore, damage shows that the explosion was to the front right side of the aircraft, at about it’s 2 o’clock position. This is apparent because the left side cockpit fuselage panel shows extensive shrapnel damage (probably well over 50 holes) coming from inside the cockpit. This, of course, led some to suggest the plane was brought down by a bomb inside it. Not at all. An SA-11 warhead detonates using a proximity fuze when the missile is about 50 meters from the target, with the 70 KG of high explosive throwing thousands of shrapnel fragments and other pieces of the missile casing at extremely high speed at the target–shotgun-like. The goal is to shower the target with high-speed metal fragments to destroy critical components. The fragments are obviously flying at speeds that allow them to easily enter the right side of the aircraft and exit the left. Indeed, lots of fuselage panels from the right side show shrapnel entering from the outside, with rear panels showing lesser damage.
Why is this important? Because MH17 was flying basically on a course to the east, with the impact having been to the west of the impact site at Hrabovo. Torez, where the SA-11 was seen before the shootdown is about 15 KM southeast of those points. The missile, being radar-guided, goes straight for the target and detonates shortly before impact. A launch from Torez would perfectly put the incoming missile just to the right front of the 777. The shrapnel blast would have devastated the cockpit, with the blast entering the right and exiting the left side, which was clearly shown by the fuselage panels. The SA-11 WAS launched from Russian-controlled Torez, which is one reason the Russian fighters controlling the site spent days trying to remove evidence.