News / Europe

Russia's Shadowy Military Presence Threatens East Ukraine

As the rhetorical shots between Moscow and the West continue, there are an estimated 40,000 Russian troops stationed just across the border from Ukraine poised to invade that country if Russian President Vladimir Putin gives the order.

But there are indications that some Russian troops already are on the Ukrainian side of the border.  

John Schindler, a specialist on intelligence at the U.S. Naval War College, said these troops are engaged in what he calls “a special war.”

“This is a strategy for using power in somewhat of a covert or clandestine manner -- espionage, subversion, even terrorism -- in a way that is not fully transparent, in a way that using overt military is,” he said. “It is very much what the Russians are doing in eastern Ukraine right now.

"They did it in Crimea before," he said. "They did a great deal of this in Georgia in 2008 leading up to their major military intervention.”

Before Putin annexed Crimea last month, pro-Russian militia took over government buildings on the peninsula and asked for Moscow’s support. Russian military authorities denied any links to the masked gunmen.

Russian accounts in doubt

Keir Giles, head of the Conflict Studies Research Center in Oxford, England, an organization that tracks the Russian military, said there is no doubt Russian soldiers were on the peninsula at that time, despite attempts to make them anonymous.

“They took off all of the unit patches and so on from their uniforms," he said. "But they were not all particularly careful about that, so some still had - for example - name tags attached to their body armor.”

“Tracing those through Russian social media, you can work out exactly which unit they are from and find out that actually they departed for Crimea at the end of February,” said Giles.

Now that Crimea is in Russian hands, the focus has shifted to predominantly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine.

Russian officials are once again denying that Russian troops are in Ukraine.

Analyst Giles said there is no doubt, however, about their presence.

“The Russian forces in Ukraine are making a much greater effort to be less obvious than they were in Crimea," he said. "So they are trying quite hard to look disorganized and less well-trained - and also intermingling much more effectively with the local units that are supporting them, as opposed to Crimea, when there were distinct groups of Russian servicemen and the local mobs that were on their side.”

Russian force presence

Analyst Schindler said Russian forces have been in Ukraine for some time.

“For weeks there have been GRU - that is Russian military intelligence, special operators roaming around eastern Ukraine and also southern Ukraine. Some of them have been caught in the Odessa region as well,” said Schindler. “These are relatively small groups -- 10, 20, 30 individuals in each group -- running around, raising local supporters, distributing guns, money, etc.

"This is exactly what the GRU does," he said. "They are very good at it, and they have been laying the groundwork for this for some time.”

Schindler and Giles said there is evidence that special forces that were in Crimea are now in eastern Ukraine.

Schindler said Russian covert operations have increased under Putin, who is a former Soviet KGB agent.

“Putin has created a state where the intelligence services -- which are his, of course, original base of power -- have enormous influence on decision-making and strategy-making in a way no Western state has,” he said.

And if you don’t understand that, Schindler said, you don’t understand how Moscow and the Kremlin operate today.
Error rendering Soundcloud.

Andre de Nesnera

Andre de Nesnera is senior analyst at the Voice of America, where he has reported on international affairs for more than three decades. Now serving in Washington D.C., he was previously senior European correspondent based in London, established VOA’s Geneva bureau in 1984 and in 1989 was the first VOA correspondent permanently accredited in the Soviet Union.

You May Like

US, China Have Dueling Definitions of Cybersecurity

Analysts say attribution or or proving that a particular individual or government is responsible for a hack, is a daunting task More

Snowden: I'd Go to Prison to Return to US

Former NSA contractor says he has not received a formal plea-deal offer from US officials, who consider him to be a traitor More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: AlfredoG from: Orlando FL
April 24, 2014 7:25 AM
Realy Russia and Putin Stink.

by: Anonymous
April 23, 2014 1:28 PM
one look at the headline tells you you might not get an unbiased account. keep your opinions out of the headlines. here, let me show you: Ukraine Feels Threatened by Russia's Military Presence Furthermore, let's not detract from the fact that Russia went to protect its interests and people from an illegitimate Ukrainian leadership. Ukraine has been unstable for a very long time. It's no wonder Russia finally had enough and went in like this. Who cares if they were already there. It's a moot point.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs