Photos released by Ukrainian officials seem to identify the pro-Russian separatists operating in the Eastern part of the country as Russian Soldiers. The men dressed in green seem to bear similar uniforms and weapons as the Russian forces that operated in Crimea just before the Russians annexed the Black Sea Peninsula late last month.
While the photos have not been independently verified, the U.S. State Department has said that these photos are further “evidence” that link the pro-Russian separatists and Russia together and are what the government in Kiev are calling, “Russian sabotage-reconnaissance groups” occupying two eastern Ukrainian towns.
The photos, which were circulated by Ukraine’s parliamentary representative to International Organizations in Vienna, Ihor Prokopchuck, appear to depict two men. Specifically, one with a beard who has been photographed in different settings and labeled as a “soldier of the Russian Special Forces” and another in a photo showing a pro-Russian militant taken in eastern Ukraine, and another of him with a group of Russian Special Forces.
While Russian President Vladimir Putin denies that there are Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine, NATO commander, Gen. Philip Breedlove commented on the organization’s blog earlier last week that the separatists that have been described as a grass-roots uprising are in fact a “well planned and organized” military operation ordered by the Kremlin.
The separatists that are supposedly getting their orders from Moscow are important because of the agreement signed by Russian foreign Minister Sergei Lovrov, who vowed to use the Kremlin’s influence in persuading the pro-Russian militants to disarm and surrender government buildings. Lovrov, however, has denounced the accusations saying that the Ukrainian government, the United States and European Union are attempting to blame Russia for everything that is going on in eastern Ukraine.
While Russia has done little to de-escalate the crisis in Ukraine, claiming that they have little to no influence over the militants that occupy government building, Ukrainian President Oleksander Turchynov has also done little in the way of following through on cracking down on the pro-Russian separatists as well. It is speculated that he has been slow to act for fear that if he does, it could cause Russia to take military action in Ukraine. Lovrov has also stated that the people who have “seized power” in Ukraine have done little to resolve the issues that have caused the crisis in the first place.
The self-declared mayor of the town of Slaviansk says that there are no active duty Russian military in Ukraine, stating that they are his ex-military comrades from Moldova, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Russia that he has called for help.
On Monday, monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe met with pro-Russian separatist leaders in Ukraine but failed to make any breakthroughs.
While tensions continue to grow, and despite the Obama administration accepting the photos put forth by Kiev as supposed Russian troops disguised as militants in Ukraine, the United States has stressed that they do not want to put American troops on the ground and that the crisis needs to be solved diplomatically. However, U.S. Defense Secretary, Chuck Hagel stated that the U.S. will continue to maintain a strong military presence in Poland due to the crisis.
By Nathaniel Pownell