Is Russian President Vladimir Putin already testing President Trump?
This week, according to The Daily Beast, pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine have started to use Grad rockets, which are inaccurate and thus even more dangerous, and the Buk missile system which shot down MH17. As the Beast points out, ”There’s only one place where the separatists can get this stuff.”
The Beast reports that Ukrainian soldiers are receiving threatening SMS text messages on their cell phones, similar to what they received before two recent cease-fires were implemented. Examples include warnings that their bodies “will be found when the snow melts,” or that they are nothing but “meat for their commanders.” The texts appear to have been broadcast by Russian electronic warfare systems.
After Donetsk Airport was taken by Russia-backed forces in January, 2015, Avdiivka has become the chief battleground between those loyal to Putin and those loyal to Ukraine. The Donetsk region is economically dependent on the Avdiivka coke and Chemical Plant, one of the largest in Europe. In March of 2016, Ukrainian troops established control over the Avdiivka industrial park , which meant they were only a few hundred meters of Russia-backed forces’ positions.
But on Sunday morning, violence erupted around Avdiivka. The Ukrainian military said Russia-backed fighters launched a series of assaults on Ukrainian positions; the Ukrainian forces counter-attacked and took control of some Russia-backed fighters’ foremost trenches.
Russian separatists claimed the Ukrainians started the violence. Since the battle,heavy shelling has been reported from Mariupol to the Luhansk region in the northeast. Video from Donetsk city has revealed repeated volleys of Grad rockets targeting Ukrainian lines from separatist areas. The Beast reports, “This is the first significant use of the weapons in urban Donetsk since the summer of 2015.”
CBC News reports, “Intense shelling has left Avdiivka, a community of 20,000 people located just north of Donetsk, without electricity, heat or water during a particularly frigid cold spell that's seen temperatures drop to -22 C at night.”
The Beast reports that Bik missiles have been fired, but it is unclear as to which side launched them:
Separatists published images today showing the wreckage of what they claimed was the wreckage of a Buk missile that had crashed, without detonating, in the Donetsk suburb of Makiivka, allegedly having been fired by Ukrainian forces at a drone operated by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) which is monitoring the conflict with the aim of securing a ceasefire. While the photos do appear to be genuine, the OSCE has explicitly denied that any of their unmanned aerial vehicles came under attack. There are also some reports from locals that the missile was fired from separatist-held territory.
What differentiates the current violence from what transpired before is its concentration in urban areas, as opposed to the fighting in the countryside.
The violence that started on Sunday followed a phone call between Trump and President Vladimir Putin on Saturday, which the Kremlin claims triggered the two men to “establish partner-like cooperation” on the “crisis” in Ukraine.
Russian media has claimed there have been attacks by Ukrainian forces on Russian journalists in Donetsk. It is possible Russia is trying to set up a situation in which an invasion of Ukraine was the logical consequence of provocation.
On Thursday, UN ambassador Nikki Haley condemned Russia's "aggressive actions" in Ukraine; Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko asked for global help to pressure Russia to back off, stating, "The world should be more actively putting pressure on Russia in order to end the shelling.”