Atlantic Council

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Ukrainian Security Agency Seeks to Arrest Russian Army Colonel Coordinating Subversion

As many as one hundred Russian military intelligence officers and special forces troops are leading the seizures of towns and local governments in Ukraine's Donetsk province, the Ukrainian intelligence chief said today in his first public account of the crisis.

Russia’s military intelligence agency, the GRU, has spent years building covert networks that its officers now are using to help seize cities such as Slaviansk and Kramatorsk in the north of Donetsk, said Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, the head of Ukraine’s State Security Service (the Sluzhba Bezpeky Ukrainy, or SBU).  Nalyvaichenko, a career diplomat and security official, gave one of the broadest descriptions of the conflict by a Ukrainian official during an online discussion hosted by the Atlantic Council.

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The Dangers Are Clear, Even if the Facts Are Not

Journalists in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slaviansk have found little to explain clearly the gunbattle at the city's edge early Sunday that has revived tensions in the east and fears of an invasion by Russian conventional forces. Reporters Roland Oliphant and Alastair Good of the the UK daily The Telegraph show what is visible there, and what is not.


Last week's agreement in Geneva, meant to avert wider conflict in Ukraine, was faltering as the new week began. Pro-Moscow separatist gunmen show no sign of surrendering government buildings they have seized. The images below are from the cities of Donetsk and Slaviansk. A gunbattle in Slaviansk left an uncertain number dead.

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REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
Slaviansk, a district center of about 120,000 people in northwestern Donetsk province, is increasingly the simmering epicenter of Ukraine’s crisis – and not only because of the gunbattle yesterday that has re-escalated tensions in the east. The masked soldiers and militiamen who control access to the city behind roadblocks of stacked tires have detained the mayor and at least one of two Ukrainian journalists who disappeared there in the past week.

The declared leader of Slaviansk's unknown ruling junta, Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying  that “fascists are trying to conquer us” and urging Putin to send “a peacekeeping force to protect the civilian population.”

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REUTERS/Marko Djurica
In Russia’s takeover of southeast Ukraine – which President Vladimir Putin is characterizing as a recovery of old Russian provinces lost in the 1920s – this week’s ineffectiveness and weakness of Ukraine’s government and armed forces are visible almost everywhere.

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The United States should provide military aid to Ukraine but should understand that the strength it lends the government in Kyiv will be more political than military, at least in the short run, says Former Undersecretary of Defense Walter Slocombe. As the Obama administration has limited its assistance to "non-lethal" supplies such as rations and clothing, US leaders and analysts, including Senator John McCain, former ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst and others, have called for greater US help, including weapons and high-tech equipment. Slocombe, a director of the Atlantic Council, says in an interview that US officials "ought to be realistic," noting that provision of sophisticated systems also will require training – and therefore a passage of time – to be militarily effective.

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As searchers in the Indian Ocean inch toward finding the disappeared Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, a reminder of the rising role of China in space is that the critical first step in learning the plane’s fate was an innovative analysis of routine satellite data – and that Chinese space assets played an unusually prominent role in the search.

Early in the search operation, China pledged the use of 21 satellites – a public display of peaceful space capabilities that reflects China’s modern space ambitions. Not all of those ambitions, though, may be peaceful.

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Russia has invaded Ukraine. This is the only conclusion to be reached from evidence that has built up in the past few days.

Groups of armed men wearing soldiers’ uniforms and working in military formations have fanned out throughout Donetsk province (oblast), and to some extent the adjoining Luhansk province, taking over police stations, Ukrainian Security Service regional offices, and government buildings. Ukrainian security forces began what they labeled an anti-terrorist operation Sunday and casualties on both sides are beginning to mount.

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Russia’s assaults on Ukraine this spring are about to revive an old idea within NATO that has not been in vogue since the Cold War: conventional deterrence .

Russia's ready use of military force in Ukraine, Georgia and beyond puts its non-NATO neighbors very much at risk of military intervention. President Putin’s fracturing of the region’s post-Cold War stability includes the use of covert agents to stage unrest and create excuses for Russia to intervene in the supposed defense of Russian-speaking minorities. Could Moscow apply the same measures in a NATO country with a significant Russian minority population such as Latvia? This question will keep NATO leaders up at night. The answer in the morning will be conventional deterrence.

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Amid the fighting that has spread across towns in southeastern Ukraine, local Russian- and Ukrainian-language websites and news organizations depict a battle in which squads of Russian gunmen are moving and fighting in tight, militarized formations to seize more government buildings and police headquarters. They are fearsomely aggressive, heavily armed, and well organized. The government seems none of the above. City administrations and police forces – in mid-sized cities such as Kramatorsk and Slaviansk, or larger ones such as Donetsk – appear passive at best, and seem in some cases to have virtually melted away in the face of the attacks.  Members of parliament and commentators have accused some local authorities of abetting the militants.

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