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Ukraine watch: Russian intrusion into the east triggers a military reaction

Ukraine tensions
Ukraine tensions
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Ukraine's eastern Donetsk region is now the scene of an "anti-terrorist operation" that will escalate if Russia does not back off of its ambitions in eastern Ukraine. Things are far from peaceful and the odds of a very cold war with Russia are now very high. According to an April 15 CNN report, acting President Oleksandr Turchynov calls the incursions "terrorism" and announced his policy to Ukraine’s parliament on Tuesday, saying,

"The aim of these actions is to protect the citizens of Ukraine, to stop terror, to stop criminality, to stop attempts to tear Ukraine to pieces."

Ukrainian forces started heading toward the Donetsk region after "separatists" ignored Turchynov’s Monday deadline to lay down their arms and move out of occupied government facilities. One National Guard battalion of about 350 troops is headed toward a region that is too far east and is not as pro Russian as Crimea. The potential for a protracted and violent civil war is high.

Russia has tens of thousands of troops massed at the border and even more "separatist supporters" who positioned themselves deep inside Ukraine. It is never very clear whether the “separatist supporters” are unmarked Russian troops or not, but this is a game that Vladimir Putin can only play for so long. It will only take a few Russian military casualties to prove that the Russian ambitions go far beyond Crimea.

There is no specific information about how many Ukraine forces are being deployed, or where they are going. The troops have no orders yet, but are expected to receive them once they are in place. One unconfirmed report had a large Ukrainian military column moving out from Donetsk and heading toward other towns.

ACTIVITY SINCE SUNDAY

An April 15 Reuters report says Ukraine forces took back a military airfield at Kramatorsk on Tuesday. The Kramatorsk police headquarters was also retaken on Sunday. During the past few days, other action flushed pro-Russian operatives out of government facilities in up to ten eastern cities.

Kiev failed to regain control of the city of Slaviansk on Sunday and two people were killed. That town is only about 90 miles (150 km) from the Russian border.

On Sunday, a Russian fighter pilot took it upon himself to repeatedly buzz and harass the
USS Donald Cook. According to an April 15 UK Guardian report, the strange display lasted about 90 minutes. The U.S ship is a guided missile destroyer that is normally positioned in the Black Sea.

WHAT ABOUT THE GAS SUPPLY?

Russia’s major economic weapon is liquid natural gas that supplies much of Europe. That gas flows through a central pipeline that runs through Ukraine. A very minor blow to Russia came when RWE, a German energy company reversed a central European pipeline from Poland to send gas to Ukraine.

This will only provide 1.5 billion cubic meters annually. Ukraine uses about 50 billion cubic meters of gas every year. Russia has doubled the gas prices for Ukraine and has repeatedly threatened to cut off all of the gas supply.

Despite the threat of worsening political and economic isolation, Russia continues to maintain a belligerent stance that is sure to ruin Vladimir Putin’s dream of a stable Russia. Russia cannot get or maintain stability if protracted meddling in Ukraine leads to economic isolation and sets international relations back to the cold war era.