News / Europe

US, Ukraine: Russian Counteroffensive Underway in South Ukraine

Ukraine Accuses Russia of Territorial Incursionsi
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Zlatica Hoke
August 28, 2014 4:07 AM
Ukraine says a key border town (Novoazovsk) and surrounding areas of in southeastern Ukraine have fallen under the control of Russia's military. President Poroshenko says "Russian troops have actually been brought into Ukraine." Despite repeated denials from Moscow, Ukraine accuses the Kremlin of providing weapons and fighters to separatists in eastern Ukraine, toward the Russian leadership's alleged goal of annexing that strategic territory. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Watch related video report from VOA's Zlatica Hoke.
VOA News

Russian heavy weaponry has reportedly crossed the border into southern Ukraine, U.S. and Ukrainian officials said Wednesday, aiding rebels in what appeared to be a major counteroffensive in a new front along the border with Russia.

With battles raging to the north – near the rebel-held city of Luhansk, and southeast of the city of Donetsk — the fighting near Novoazovsk, a southern town along the Sea of Azov, appeared to be the most blatant incursion by Russian forces to date.

Western reporters around Novoazovsk said Ukrainian forces were abandoning vehicles and ammunition as they retreated from the advancing forces. The U.S. State Department said Russian military hardware crossing the border included tanks and rocket launchers and there were reports of separatists shelling residential areas in the port city of Mariupol, west of Novoazovsk.  Heavy fighting had also erupted at the Donetsk airport.

Novoazovsk, a resort town of 40,000, is strategically located on the road linking Russia to Mariupol and, further west, the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, which Russia annexed on March.

Ukrainian national security spokesman Col. Andriy Lysenko said a group of Russian soldiers had crossed the border in armored personnel carriers and a truck and entered the town of Amvrosiyivka, not far from where Ukraine detained 10 Russian soldiers on Monday.

Ukraine's lead security agency, the SBU, also said in a statement it had detained another Russian soldier in the east of the country who has confessed his unit provided military support to separatist rebels.

Lysenko said fighting in two other towns, Horlivka and Ilovaysk, had killed about 200 pro-Russian rebels and destroyed tanks and missile systems. At least 13 Ukrainian service personnel had been killed in the past 24 hours and 36 had been wounded.

Russia, which has not yet responded to the accusations, has repeatedly denied sending weapons and soldiers to help the rebels. Russian officials said the soldiers captured on Monday had crossed an unmarked section of the border by mistake.

“Russia continues to build up its military presence at their border,” Lysenko said. “During the last 24 hours, Russian military vehicles concentrated in border districts mostly in the Rostov region.”

The Associated Press reported its journalists on the border near Novoazovsk have seen rebels with a wide range of unmarked military equipment - including tanks, Buk missile launchers and armored personnel carriers - and have run into many Russians among the rebel fighters.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, center, leaves the hall after meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Minsk, Belarus, Aug. 26, 2014.Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, center, leaves the hall after meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Minsk, Belarus, Aug. 26, 2014.
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Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, center, leaves the hall after meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Minsk, Belarus, Aug. 26, 2014.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, center, leaves the hall after meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Minsk, Belarus, Aug. 26, 2014.

Military Buildup

Despite Moscow’s denials, Russian support for separatists since the rebellion began in April has been all but confirmed by eyewitness accounts, intelligence reports and types of weaponry being utilized in rebels’ fight against Ukrainian troops.

Western and Ukrainian officials have said Russia is trying to break Ukrainian forces’ siege of Luhansk, and also battling to open a supply corridor from border to nearby Donetsk. 

The incursion occurred as Ukraine’s president met with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, for late-night talks in the Belarussian capital Minsk. The talks had appeared to yield some progress towards ending the conflict in which more than 2,200 people have been killed, according to the United Nations.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko had said he would work on an urgent “road map” towards a ceasefire with the rebels. Putin said it would be for Ukrainians to work out ceasefire terms, but Moscow would "contribute to create a situation of trust".

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks to the media after his talks with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Minsk, Belarus, Aug. 27, 2014.Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks to the media after his talks with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Minsk, Belarus, Aug. 27, 2014.
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Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks to the media after his talks with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Minsk, Belarus, Aug. 27, 2014.
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks to the media after his talks with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Minsk, Belarus, Aug. 27, 2014.

In a press briefing following the Minsk meeting, Putin also called for renewed dialogue on outstanding trade issues, including the implementation of an agreement creating stronger ties between Ukraine and the European Union that Putin said poses a “significant risk” to the Russian economy.

Poroshenko’s predecessor, Viktor Yanukovych, had refused to sign the EU deal, sparking violent protests in Kyiv in February that eventually forced him from office, setting the scene for the present conflict. Poroshenko was elected president in May.

The United States, the European Union and other Western nations have imposed economic sanctions on Russia for its support of the separatists.

In a telephone call with Putin, Germany's Angela Merkel said reports of a new Russian military incursion into Ukrainian territory had to be cleared up, a spokesman for the chancellor said in a statement.

"The latest reports of the presence of Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory must be explained," Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said Wednesday. "She emphasized Russia's major responsibility for de-escalation and watching over its own frontiers."

NATO Military Exercises

Also Wednesday, NATO said it was stepping up exercises in Eastern Europe, as a way to assuage concerns of the alliance’s newer members – Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, among others, who fear Russian threats. Alliance chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he expects NATO members next week will approve sending temporary forces into the region.

Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, accused the Russian government of showing an "unwillingness to tell the truth even as its soldiers are found [30 miles] inside Ukraine.”

"Russia is sending its young men into Ukraine, but not telling them where they are going or their parents what they are doing,” she said.

Gas Warnings

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, meanwhile, warned  that Russia could cut off gas to Europe this winter, a charge that Moscow quickly denied.

"The situation in [Ukraine's] energy sector is difficult. We know of Russia's plans to block [gas] transit even to European Union countries this winter, and that's why their [EU] companies were given an order to pump gas into storage in Europe as fully as possible," Yatsenyuk told a government meeting.

Russia has halted gas flows to Ukraine, a major transit route for EU gas, three times in the past decade in 2006, 2009 and since June this year because of price disputes with Kyiv.

In Moscow, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak called Yatsenyuk's comment a "groundless attempt to intentionally mislead or misinform European consumers of Russian gas.”

“We will put forth maximum efforts to fulfil gas contract obligations to European importers regardless of political issues in this or that transit country,” he said.

VOA's Mike Eckel in Washington and Gabe Joselow in Kyiv, Ukraine contributed to this report. Material from The Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.

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by: Soloview from: Canada
August 28, 2014 6:12 PM
As a Czech expat of 1968 I surely can tell when Russia "invades" from when it merely "provides fraternal help" (If you don't get this joke don't worry). Putin is not invading but he is not sitting idly by. No Russian leader worthy of his salt could do that given the outrages perpetrated on the people of Eastern Ukraine. So wake up and smell the coffee ! And read Putin's lips : f**k off !

by: Anonymous
August 28, 2014 8:31 AM
Let's look at the big picture here: the EU is and always will be a mob of Romans, barbarians, vikings, and crusaders each with their own self-interests. Russia is trying to reintegrate Ukraine as part of its historic motherland. They sincerely want to put Ukraine into good use. The UK is trying to take over the EU as part of a reconstruction of its historic empire.

They want to unite Anglo-Saxon Europe in the face of China (reflect this on how the Japanese tried to unite Asia in the face of the West). While Russia attacks Europe from the East through unmarked warriors, Britain attacks Europe from the South through chains of shadows. If the EU can't evolve enough to control their ancestral habits, I say let Russia take the East and the UK take the West. The U.S. could use some good rivals as catalysts to become the only nation in the world where humans can truly live and work together under God.

by: Cristian Bacanu from: romania
August 28, 2014 6:34 AM
We, the free world (NATO, EU and US) should help Ukraine asap. Russia is invading. Russian soldiers are killing, raping women, robbing, etc. Let's remember Churchill's words to Chamberllain: We seem to be very near the bleak choice between War and Shame. My feel­ing is that we shall choose Shame, and then have War thrown in a lit­tle later on even more adverse terms than at present.
In Response

by: Cristian Bacanu from: Romania
August 29, 2014 5:55 AM
Let us know what really happened during the 2nd world war in Europe and stop caring for my family's well doing. My family had 40 years in political prison after the Russian ocupation simply because they were not peasants. You have no idea what Russian ocuppation really means.
In Response

by: Quoc Tuan from: Viet Nam
August 28, 2014 9:03 PM
Stop spreading lies about Rusian soldiers. Without them your mother could have not given birth to a liar as you because the Germans could have killed off your grandmother. Our grandfather used to witness the rapping and killing of a Vietnamese woman by an american officer during the Vietnam war. So I know very well who is bad and who is good.

by: Erik from: Poland
August 28, 2014 5:36 AM
A joint Polish-Ukrainian team just unearthed another mass grave of Polish soldiers, and civilians, who were killed by the Russians in 1940-1. Close to a thousand bodies.

The Russians always seem so surprised, dumbfounded even, to discover that everybody, their neighbors in particular, and especially their Slavic neighbors, hate them.

Go figure.

by: David from: Germany
August 28, 2014 2:43 AM
We must help Ukrainians! NATO must not stand aside!!!

by: Ignots from: Lithuania
August 28, 2014 2:32 AM
Why Invasion of Ukraine by Russia is callled "Counteroffensive"? Ukraine don't offended Russia! Russia Army invadeded Ukraine! Its is start of WWIII. All we should remember August 27, 2014 date and remember all so called Politicians, who didn't wish to "offend" Mr. Putler and will wait until Russia army will invade Berlin again.

by: Mark from: Virginia
August 27, 2014 10:25 PM
I see two parallels here, quite striking, too...
1) 1940, Russia still delivering wheat and other grains to Germany as per trade agreements between the two even though Germany was planning a full-scale attack on the Soviet Union, During that time, Russia even turned a blind eye to the build up of German forces in the western half of Poland that Germany had seized in 1939.
2) 1941, Japan and the United States negotiating the lifting of embargoes on U.S. goods to Japan (due to the Japanese actions against the Chinese, for which the United States imposed those embargoes for), Japan talking peace while preparing for war, their attack on Pearl Harbor.

It is a recurring theme, such formalities being performed by certain sides while still denying any preparations for direct military action. (History repeats, I have said it many, many times). Only time will tell if the pattern we're seeing here conforms to historical precedent, and outright war being declared between the Ukraine and Russia.
Well, despite hopes, it appears that the Cold War is returning to its former place as it had been in the 1950's and 1960's. The rift between East and West is getting wider and nations are moving their pawns across the chess board known as Europe.
History. Learn from it, or be forced to repeat it. And we have not learned from it.

And I fear that our present Administration is going to hold off any direct action until after the 2016 election, in order to retain their 'legacy' on non-involvement. They will wait, and put the burden of such heavy-weight decisions on the shoulders of others, and in doing so, wait until it is long beyond the point of any hope of resolution to a successful end.

by: BenFranklin99 from: Seattle, USA
August 27, 2014 10:10 PM
The alleged separatists are actually Russian troops in uniforms with the insignia removed.

by: Viet Hoa from: Viet Nam
August 27, 2014 9:40 PM
Hey Russia, the US has invaded many countries on Earth to become the number 1. Russia should prove yourself to be great by invading Ukraine and merge it into Russia. The West will dare not touch you because you have nuclear weapons and can use them to bring Western countries back to the Stone Age.
In Response

by: Igor from: Russia
August 28, 2014 9:10 PM
Hey Mike from USA. Your country owes a lot to Vietnamese people and even your grandsons cannot pay off your debt. They never forget your debt.
In Response

by: Mike from: USA
August 28, 2014 8:01 AM
Next time I'm at the store and see something manufactured in Vietnam, I will not buy it. I'm sure the Russians will buy your products. Good luck.
In Response

by: Maj Gen Luo Yuan from: Beijing
August 28, 2014 6:21 AM
Keep it up, Viet Hoa. Chinese trolls like you are always welcome in our 50 Cent Party. I may promote you to join our 55 Cent Party.

by: meanbill from: USA
August 27, 2014 9:27 PM
Putin would make a great adversary in a poker game, and the US and NATO haven't a clue on what kind of hand he's holding, (it could be a royal flush or nothing), (but), the US and NATO are afraid to call his hand, with Ukraine being what they're playing the game for?.... or it could be a game called Strategy?.... or Monopoly?.... but whatever the game is, Putin is making it interesting, isn't he?
PS;.. The Russian Ukrainians hold dual citizenship and passports in Ukraine and Russia, and over a million of them have gone into Russia to avoid the war, (and most probably), thousands of those dual Russian Ukrainians have been armed and trained in Russia, and have returned to Ukraine to help their pro-Russian brothers fight the Ukraine government?.... (Putin my be telling the truth, that they aren't specifically Russian troops, but armed and trained returning Russian Ukrainians, with dual passports?)..... fighting alongside their pro-Russian separatist brothers?..... (it's possible, isn't it?)
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