Saturday, January 31, 2015

State Department: 'Russian Military Has A Significant Presence In Ukraine'

WASHINGTON, DC -- Ever since March 2014 when President Obama referred to Russian aggression against Ukraine as an "invasion," administration officials have avoided that word in conjunction with the ongoing conflict.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew with Ukrainian Finance Minister Natalia Jaresko.

In fact, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey R. Pyatt's declared on April 29, 2014, that "Russian troops crossing Ukraine's borders would be a major escalation, and would draw an inevitable, sharp reaction from the United States," implying that, President Obama's March remarks notwithstanding, no Russian troops had "invaded."

Even as recently as this week, Ambassador Samantha Power at the United Nations charged Russia with training, supplying, aiding, and arming separatists in Ukraine, but stopped short of saying that Russian troops were engaged across the border in Ukraine.

And Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, in Kiev for a meeting with Ukrainian finance minister Jaresko referred to the "ongoing military offensive... being carried out by Russia-backed separatists," but made no mention of Russian forces.

However, when asked to comment on remarks by a U.S. Army general that suggested Russian special operations forces are playing an active role in the conflict, a State Department spokesperson replied:

We cannot confirm specific numbers, but the Russian military has a significant presence in Ukraine.

In late December, Russia transferred more than one hundred additional pieces of Russian military equipment and material to pro-Russia separatists.

The latest transfer complements the previous transfer of hundreds of pieces of Russian military equipment provided to pro-Russia separatists since the September 5 Minsk ceasefire agreement, including tanks, armored personnel carriers, heavy artillery pieces, and other military vehicles.

There are several sites near the Ukraine border, which serve as staging points before transporting Russian military equipment to pro-Russia separatists in Ukraine.

Russian combat forces remain deployed near the Ukraine border, and Russian military forces still operate in eastern Ukraine, where they play a coordinating role and provide ongoing tactical support to pro-Russia separatists.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) has been more vocal about Russian military activity in eastern Ukraine beyond simply supplying and training separatists.

In remarks Tuesday at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Special Operations and Low-intensity Conflict Symposium, Army Gen. Joseph L. Votel suggested that Russian special operations forces are active in the conflict:

[A] resurgent Russia is now employing coercive techniques against its neighbor using [special operations] forces, other clandestine capabilities, information operations, other cyber operations and groupings of ethnic proxies and surrogates to drive wedges into our key allies in East Europe.

General Votel seemed to distinguish between the activities of Russian forces and "groupings of ethnic proxies and surrogates," presumably the separatist forces in Ukraine that have been fighting Ukrainian forces in the eastern part of that country since early 2014.

When asked for comment, a DOD spokesperson said, "The general referred to the use of Special Operations Forces and Information Operations.

In the US military, Special Operations Forces is an umbrella term for all special operations units to include units that conduct Military Information Support Operations or MISO. MISO, also referred to as Psychological Operations, is a subset of Information Operations‎ and has nothing to do forces on the ground."

A second DOD spokesperson's comments mirrored those of the State Department, and also called on Russia to fulfill the Minsk agreement by "withdrawing all troops and weapons from eastern Ukraine": 

[W]e've been saying out of the DoD for quite a while now [that] we cannot confirm specific numbers, but the Russian military has a significant presence in Ukraine.

We call on Russia to de-escalate this conflict by fulfilling the commitments they signed up to in Minsk, including by withdrawing all troops and weapons from eastern Ukraine, establishing effective international monitoring of the international border and returning control of Ukraine’s side of that border to the government in Kiev, freeing all hostages, and working towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

President Obama himself addressed the Ukrainian situation with Chancellor Merkel of Germany in a phone call on Tuesday, but the readout of the call made no mention of Russian forces in Ukraine.

Rather, the president and Chancellor Merkel decried "Russia’s materiel support for the separatists and its failure to fulfill its commitment under the Minsk Agreement."

Source: The Weekly Standard

Lining Up To Receive Aid In Ukraine, Crowd Is Devastated By A Mortar Attack

DONETSK, Ukraine -- Seven people were killed and at least three wounded in a pair of mortar attacks on the city’s west side Friday, including one that hit a crowd of people waiting in line to receive humanitarian aid as fighting raged outside of town.

A series of explosions on Friday hit a parking lot in Donetsk where several hundred people had lined up for humanitarian aid meant for children and the elderly.

The carnage ended nearly a day and a half of relative calm in the region controlled by pro-Russian separatists, where fighting between the rebels and the Ukrainian military has spiked sharply since a shaky cease-fire broke down this month.

Officials of the Donetsk People’s Republic were quick to attribute the attacks to Ukrainian “saboteurs” who they said had infiltrated the city.

“Once again we have the baseness and the meanness of the Ukrainian sabotage groups,” they said in a statement.

A woman wounded in a rocket attack was treated in a hospital in Donetsk, Ukraine, on Monday.

The body of her mother, who was killed in the attack, lay on a gurney nearby.

Ukraine’s government, meanwhile, blamed provocateurs trying to derail the peace process for the attack.

“The Ukrainian Army didn’t conduct any hostilities near the city of Donetsk today and had nothing to do with the fire on the humanitarian aid point,” said Vladimir Polevoy, deputy chief of the Information and Analysis Center of Ukraine’s Safety and Defense Council.

Sounds of heavy shelling and rocket fire emanated from the ruined airport, the site of almost continuous hostilities despite a cease-fire that was declared on Sept. 5.

Fighting was also reported around the town of Debaltseve, a railroad hub where a contingent of Ukrainian soldiers is surrounded on three sides by rebel troops.

The first mortar strike in Donetsk landed shortly before 1 p.m. along Matrosova Street in a neighborhood of middle-class apartment blocks and small industrial facilities a few miles west of the city center. 

Lyudmila Inozemtseva, 55, said she had just gone into the bathroom to comb her hair when she heard three or four loud blasts.

A few minutes later, there was another series of explosions a short distance away, she said.

The initial strikes hit a trolley bus just outside Ms. Inozemtseva’s building and went into a neighboring apartment.

Maria, 36, who declined to give her last name, said she had been drinking tea in the kitchen with her 3-year-old child when she heard a loud explosion.

“There was all of a sudden a lot of smoke and dust,” she said, “and I was only half-conscious when I grabbed my child and went to another apartment where I thought it would be safer.”

When she returned, she saw that the shell had gone through the window into her living room and a piece of shrapnel was embedded in the kitchen door.

The body of an elderly man lay on the sidewalk just outside her apartment, while another man was sprawled beside a trolley bus stop down the block.

The temperature hovered just above freezing so the blood pooled in ice crevices along the debris-covered sidewalk and turned the slush to pink.

The second series of explosions hit about a half-mile away, in a parking lot shared by a neighborhood cultural center and the Hotel Europe.

Several hundred people had been lined up there, or waiting in parked cars, to pick up humanitarian aid for children and the elderly.

One woman who had been waiting near the head of the relief line, who would give only her first name, Lyudmila, said she had heard a series of explosions a short distance away followed quickly by an enormous blast very near her in the parking lot.

Armed guards monitoring the crowd rushed her and several other people inside the hotel, she said. 

“I had come to pick up aid for my 82-year-old mother, who cannot get out of her apartment,” she said.

“But I will never come again, not after this.”

The body of one man lay slumped inside his blue sedan while four others lay beneath blankets in the glass-and-debris covered lot.

Three other vehicles were twisted and shattered by the explosions. 

Rimma Fil, coordinator of the humanitarian center for the Rinat Akhmetov charity fund, which had been distributing the aid, said the group was closing its distribution locations for the day, but hoped to reopen them as early as Saturday morning.

The crowd at the attack site was so large, she said, because other centers for dispersing aid near the airport and in other dangerous neighborhoods had been closed in recent days, forcing people from several parts of the city to come there for aid.

“We are not military people, we do not know what is going on,” Ms. Fil said.

“We are just trying to organize humanitarian aid to people who are suffering.”

The sounds of a few more explosive bursts could be heard later in the afternoon in the same Kuybyshevsky district, but there were no further reports of casualties.

Source: The New York Times

Ukraine General Says Russia Knew Rebel Offensive Was Coming

SOLEDAR, Ukraine -- Gen. Oleksandr Rozmaznin was taken aback when his Russian counterpart, assigned to help oversee the cease-fire in eastern Ukraine, announced on Jan. 20 that he would no longer show up at their joint office.

Ukrainian Gen. Oleksandr Rozmaznin is responsible for implementing the tattered ceasefire agreement in east Ukraine with his Russian counterparts and separatist militants.

There was too great a security threat, Gen. Alexander Vyaznikov said, pointing to Grad rockets that had fallen nearby the day before, the latest in months of attacks.

“I said, ‘Well, I’m there. So if you know something I don’t know, maybe you can let me in on it,’” Gen. Rozmaznin said, recounting their exchanges.

The Russian replied that he wanted to temporarily relocate because “there is a distinct threat to the life and health of my staff,” adding, “I invite you to follow my example.”

Soon enough, Russia-backed separatists launched a broad campaign to surround and seize the Ukrainian-held frontline city of Debaltseve, where the two were based.

The Russian delegation’s pullout began to compute.

“They know the plans without a doubt,” Gen. Rozmaznin said. 

Russia’s Defense Ministry didn’t respond to a request to interview Gen. Vyaznikov or to a list of emailed questions.

All sides had selected Debaltseve in September as the headquarters for a “joint center for coordination and control,” comprising Ukrainian and Russian officers and representatives from the two self-declared rebel republics.

All were assigned to implement and monitor the cease-fire.

But the small city—a strategic railway hub for the region—has turned into the hottest battlefield in the conflict, the focal point of a surge in violence this past week that has rendered the nominal cease-fire more lifeless than ever.

Though the rebels have since trumpeted their offensive, Russian President Vladimir Putin has blamed the new fighting on Kiev, describing Ukrainian forces as “a foreign NATO legion, which is of course not pursuing Ukraine’s national interests.”

In the latest round of attacks, seven civilians were killed Friday by artillery fire in Debaltseve in their homes, regional police chief Vyacheslav Abroskin said on Facebook.

Another seven civilians were killed in nearby rebel-held Donetsk, after shells landed near a bus stop and a humanitarian-aid distribution center.

Five members of the Ukrainian military were killed in the same 24-hour period, a spokesman said.

Dozens were wounded on both sides.

Diplomats are scrambling to revive a new round of cease-fire talks over the weekend in the Belarusian capital of Minsk, hoping to bring a respite from the renewal of full-scale fighting.

Refusing to give up on the agreement, Gen. Rozmaznin says he hasn’t broken contact with his Russian counterpart and is trying to remain diplomatic.

Meanwhile he says the rebels won’t succeed in their new offensive. 

“With or without artillery, they won’t take Debaltseve,” the general said in an interview on Wednesday.

“Because I’m telling you, we won’t let them do it. We won’t give it up.”

But the threat has grown by the day.

On Friday, rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko appeared on Russian state television amid burning buildings and artillery fire to claim his forces had taken the town of Vuhlehirsk, 6 miles down the road. 

“Today, we tightened the ring around Debaltseve,” Zakharchenko said.

The transport hub, situated between the two largest rebel-held cities, Donetsk and Luhansk, is seen as vital to rebel efforts to restart their battered economy.

Ukrainian military spokesman Col. Andriy Lysenko denied that rebel forces had control of Vuhlehirsk and said a battle was underway.

Authorities scrambled to evacuate thousands of remaining Debaltseve residents by bus.

Gen. Rozmaznin said that at first, implementation of at least part of the September cease-fire rules seemed plausible.

Ukrainian authorities provided accommodation and food for the Russian military’s working group representatives in Soledar, a Ukrainian salt-mining town, and work facilities in Debaltseve, about an hour’s drive away. 

“It was written into the protocol that us two—the general from Russia and the general from Ukraine—would travel in the same car,” Gen. Rozmaznin said.

So for weeks, every workday morning they would sit together for the commute to Debaltseve along with a security detail, despite the veritable state of war between their countries.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which has the job of monitoring the activities of the implementation group, said the Russian representative voiced safety concerns after at least 30 Grad rockets hit Debaltseve on Jan. 19, killing three civilians and wounding 12.

The OSCE said the Russian delegation later handed an official letter to the Ukrainian team announcing its evacuation to Soledar.

The OSCE conducted a crater analysis at the attack site and determined the missiles came from the direction of rebel-held territory to the west.

These days, Gen. Rozmaznin takes the car and goes to Debaltseve on his own.

He says Gen. Vyaznikov stays behind in Soledar and gets around on foot.

The security detail has split up so both generals remain guarded at all times.

“The Russians’ main task was to influence ‘those territories’ so they behaved themselves adequately,” Gen. Rozmaznin said.

“But unfortunately…those comrades stopped behaving themselves adequately and started to intensify their efforts.”

He said the rebels regrouped, rearmed and decided to show Ukrainian forces their new strength.

At the core of the cease-fire working group are units of Russian and Ukrainian officers operating on both sides of the frontline, seeking to keep tabs on violations and open lines of communication.

Gen. Rozmaznin held up a chart of recent violations.

He said there were 34 on Jan. 1.

One day this week he said there were 126.

The amount of destruction in the area would suggest even more.

He said the bulk were from the rebel side, but the Ukrainians were also on the chart.

For the 60-year-old general, the fight in east Ukraine is personal.

Though he spent much of his life moving around the Soviet Union with the Red Army, he grew up in the Luhansk region, a center of the separatist revolt.

His wife comes from Donetsk, the neighboring region and the rebels’ other stronghold.

Gen. Rozmaznin led Ukrainian troops last summer in an attempt to secure the border there with Russia—a critical part of the cease-fire agreement that remains unfulfilled.

He said coming under fire in a place where he used to run around as a boy was a “kind of moral trauma.”

“It wasn’t so much disappointment as pain and anger that weighed on me,” he said.

If the West were to supply arms to the Ukrainian military, he said, that could level the playing field, potentially creating an equilibrium that would force Russia to negotiate.

“If we had precision antitank weapons, for example, then it would mean their tanks would be destroyed in such quantities that it would probably bring them to their senses,” he said.

Western governments have consistently ruled out providing lethal military aid to Ukraine, which is not a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, to avoid provoking a bigger confrontation with Russia.

They have accused Russia of providing troops and materiel, charges Moscow has denied.

Like many top Ukrainian officials, Gen. Rosmaznin presents the conflict as a sort of civilizational battle.

“Europe should understand that Ukraine stands on frontier defending democracy and European values,” he said.

“That is where we stand. That is what we’re defending. If we surrender, I have no doubt that the Baltics will be next.”

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Friday, January 30, 2015

War In Ukraine: Ceasefire No More

DONETSK, Ukraine -- Renewed heavy fighting suggests that Russia has abandoned any pretence of sticking to the Minsk peace deal.

Amid the rubble of eastern Ukraine lie traces of life before the war: a pair of broken sunglasses, a stuffed pink unicorn, a roll of undeveloped film.

In Dokuchaievsk, south of Donetsk, where a rocket recently ripped into an apartment block, a lonely dog, Virma, sits by the rubble, paws shaking.

Virma’s owner, like the other 5,100 people killed in Ukraine since last April, will not be back.

Despite hopes that the conflict was edging towards resolution, Ukraine’s war has entered its deadliest period since a nominal ceasefire halted a Russian-led advance in September.

Dokuchaievsk is just one of many small towns and cities caught up in the latest violence.

The ceasefire unravelled when rebel forces renewed their siege of Donetsk airport.

President Petro Poroshenko threatened to “hit the rebels in the teeth”; the rebels’ leader, Alexander Zakharchenko, promised to attack Kiev’s troops until he reached “the borders of the former Donetsk region.”

But mostly both sides hit civilians, fighting at a distance with heavy artillery.

In the nine days to January 21st, at least 262 people were killed in eastern Ukraine, an average of 29 a day.

A rocket strike on a bus killed 12 civilians in Ukrainian-controlled Volnovakha on January 13th; nine days later another 13 were killed in Donetsk.

On January 24th a barrage of Grad rockets fired from rebel-held territory into Mariupol, a port, killed another 30.

As media attention shifted south to Mariupol, separatist forces pushed north.

Their main target was Debaltseve, which sits between the rebel capitals of Donetsk and Luhansk, and is already surrounded on three sides.

Under heavy shelling, residents have begun fleeing.

Several thousand Ukrainian troops, along with stores of equipment, reportedly remain entrenched.

Government soldiers at the base insist they can hold the line, despite taking heavy casualties.

Rebels say they have nearly closed the Ukrainians’ only exit route and are trapping them in a “cauldron”.

It could boil over any day.

Beyond Debaltseve, rebel troops also hope to capture Avdeyevka, near Donetsk, and Schastye, north of Luhansk.

Their movements are driven by both military and economic imperatives.

Straightening out the front line will improve defensive positions, and allow forces from Luhansk and Donetsk to join up.

Avdeyevka has a coke-making plant essential to Ukraine’s steel industry; Schastye has a power station used to power Luhansk; Debaltseve has rail links crucial to the coal trade.

Along with the airport, all three places would facilitate the long-term survival of the separatists’ pseudo-state.

Violence has also spilled beyond the Donbas, with saboteurs staging attacks elsewhere in Ukraine.

Separatists “will rise up” in other cities, declares one senior Donetsk rebel.

Ukraine and its Western allies say that Russia is, once again, actively directing the offensive.

NATO intelligence claims that advanced military equipment has been pouring across the border.

Kiev accuses Russia of having 9,000 troops in eastern Ukraine.

Moscow continues baldly to deny its involvement, despite evidence that includes the graves of its own soldiers.

Those who return alive sometimes let details slip.

One man from Russia’s far east who fought as a volunteer at Donetsk airport admitted to local media that the Russian army is present in Donetsk, fighting under the guise of rebels: “They’re just not visible, they work quietly and carefully.”

After their devastating losses last August, Ukraine’s leaders understood that they could not contend with the regular Russian army.

The Minsk peace accords in September were born of that realisation.

Even after the attack on Mariupol, Mr Poroshenko remains publicly committed to a diplomatic solution that seems ever more illusory.

Patience and calm is the message at home.

But many no longer believe that diplomacy can work.

As Sergei Pashinsky, head of the Ukrainian parliament’s national security committee, says, “the hope that the conflict in eastern Ukraine was stabilising, that it could be regulated not with the force of weapons, but with the force of truth and law, has been dispelled.” 

Abroad, Mr Poroshenko warns of a continental war, evoking the spectre of Nazism while visiting Auschwitz to rally support against Putin.

Yet he has resisted calls officially to acknowledge that Ukraine is at war.

Some officials fear that putting the country on a war footing would spook Ukraine’s Western creditors, especially the IMF, which recently promised a new loan package.

Others note that martial law would bring restrictions on political and media freedoms.

Instead, Ukraine’s parliament has voted to label Russia as “an aggressor country”.

Ukrainian officials are calling for new sanctions.

A “deeply concerned” Barack Obama has promised to consider all measures “short of military confrontation”.

He could even begin supplying defensive weapons under a power recently given to him by Congress.

But sending weapons Ukraine would also fuel Putin’s feverish talk of Russia being at war with NATO’s foreign legions.

Source: The Economist Europe

Fighting Surge In Eastern Ukraine Creates New Wave Of Refugees

POPASNA, Ukraine -- Alexei Rozposienko begged his mother to flee as a surge in fighting between Ukrainian forces holding this city and the Russia-backed rebels nearby exploded night after night.

Residents of Popasna gather plastic film this week to cover blown-out windows amid artillery blasts.

“I said, ‘Mom, I can’t stay in this house. My life is more valuable than this,’” the 25-year-old welding student said.

“I started to ask more forcefully. I said, ‘Sooner or later it will hit our building.’”

But it wasn’t until his mother timidly approached the window this week and saw sparks flying from rocket-fire below, like some kind of deadly fireworks display, that she finally relented.

They caught one of the last buses out of town, joining a new wave of displaced people in eastern Ukraine amid a resurgence of fighting that effectively put an end to a cease-fire that had been shaky for months. 

Thousands of people who thought the worst had passed have suddenly found themselves catapulted back into the crossfire and scrambling for safety in the dead of winter.

Ukraine this week announced plans for evacuations, evoking memories of a mass exodus in both directions during the heaviest fighting last summer.

But the government’s resources so far are limited to a trickle of buses across a broad area, and few residents seem to know the details.

On Wednesday, Ukrainian authorities in the Donetsk region said they had evacuated 346 people, including 161 children.

The mayor of Popasna, Yuri Onishchenko, estimates there are about 5,000 to 6,000 people left in the city, which he says had more than 20,000 before the fighting began almost 10 months ago.

Most who wanted to leave have already done so, he said.

The city has gone back and forth—from Ukrainian soil to de facto rebel republic and back to Ukraine.

Despite sporadic violence, there was hope a September peace plan would eventually take hold. 

This past week, however, the Russia-backed militants launched an offensive to encircle nearby Debaltseve, a Ukrainian-held railway hub that juts peninsula-like into rebel territory.

Attacks on places like Popasna have become part of that effort.

At least four residents have died in the past week—all civilians killed by artillery fire.

One middle-aged man was hit at a bus stop, the others killed in their own homes.

“We’ve never had anything like this before,” Mr. Onishchenko said.

“Maybe one or two days (of fighting). But a week? No.”

Under the government evacuation plans, residents are supposed to call a hotline and submit an application.

Rather than wait, most leave on their own, but many elderly and low-income residents don’t have the wherewithal to go anywhere.

Those in Ukrainian-held towns who want to stay with relatives on rebel turf now need a pass from Ukrainian authorities to cross the front, which can take 10 days to acquire or be denied.

The U.N. has described the new travel restrictions as “worrying, especially in light of the escalating hostilities.”

Where Ukrainian authorities are absent, some volunteers have stepped in.

Evgeny Kaplin, a 25-year-old youth-group leader from Kharkiv, has been driving into some of the most dangerous areas to rescue some of the thousands of civilians he says are left in areas such as Debaltseve. 

“We were yelling already a week ago that people should be evacuated from there,” he said.

With just five to seven volunteers going on evacuation missions, his small group can only take so many.

In Popasna, residents braved a lull in fighting Wednesday to slip across the ice-encrusted sidewalks in search of food and water.

Some lined up at city hall for heavy plastic film to cover their windows. 

Like many remaining residents, Alexander Hushevsky, a 59-year-old metalworker, had no heat, no electricity and no running water at home.

The previous night had tested his nerves: Artillery shells hailed down around his apartment and exploded a few dozen yards from his door.

It was the worst night he could remember since the conflict began.

“I consider myself a brave person,” Mr. Hushevsky said.

“But this is scary.”

One elderly woman had brought her handicapped brother to city hall in search of a way to get out.

She said she didn’t have the money to hire a car, and regional buses had stopped working, leaving her desperate.

The mayor promised an evacuation bus in the coming days.

Wearing just a sweater, he was sliding across the ice, loading bottled water into a car, as he ran around making deliveries to people hiding in frigid basements.

Mr. Rozposienko, his mother, two sisters, a niece and a nephew fled to the nearby city of Soledar, where authorities put them up in an empty wing of a hospital.

They are six to a room.

“It’s ideal,” Mr. Rozposienko said, thankful for any place with electricity and away from day-and-night explosions.

“It’s great,” his young nephew piped in.

“You can actually sleep.”

Popasna’s mayor, who supports the government in Kiev, admits to being scared that the rebels will retake the city.

He reckons more than half the city supports the separatists, though he says opinions are changing as homes come under fire day after day from rebel positions.

“How should you feel when your own are fighting against your own?” retired policeman Alexander Yefimtsev said, explaining that he had friends fighting on both sides.

The 55-year-old said his children had left Popasna for safer areas, but he refused.

“Where should I go? Why should I create problems for other people?” Mr. Yefimtsev said.

“Whatever happens will happen. Wherever (the artillery shell) falls, it falls.”

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Ukraine Needs America’s Help

WASHINGTON, DC -- The new year has brought more misery to Ukraine. Separatist fighters, supported by Russian troops, have launched attacks in Donetsk and Luhansk.

Ukrainian servicemen sit atop an armored personnel carrier (APC) as they patrol Orekhovo village in Luhansk region January 28, 2015.

Diplomatic efforts have made no progress toward a settlement — or even toward firming up a cease-fire that has all but collapsed.

The West, including the United States, needs to get serious about assisting Ukraine if it does not wish to see the situation deteriorate further.

That means committing real money now to aid Ukraine’s defense. 

Following the intervention by regular Russian army units in eastern Ukraine in August, a cease-fire was hammered out in Minsk on Sept. 5.

Observance of the cease-fire terms has been piecemeal at best, with regular shelling across the line of contact.

After a December lull, fighting picked up again this month.

The leader of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic recently said he will take all of Donetsk.

The next day, separatists, augmented by Russian troops, rocketed the city of Mariupol, killing some 30 civilians.

Moscow has done nothing to promote a peaceful settlement.

It did not withdraw its weapons, nor did it secure the Ukraine-Russia border, as it agreed to do in Minsk.

Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to deny that his forces fight in Ukraine — even as Russian television shows soldiers in action wearing Russian insignia.

By all appearances, the Kremlin seeks to keep the conflict simmering to pressure and destabilize the Ukrainian government.

For the West, this issue goes beyond Ukraine.

Russia has torn up the rule book that maintained peace, stability and security in Europe for almost 70 years, and it has now used force to change borders.

If the West does not push back, it could face challenges, even armed challenges, from Russia elsewhere that will require far more costly responses.

To date, the United States and European Union have responded to Russia’s aggression with economic sanctions.

These have inflicted serious damage on the Russian economy but have not yet achieved their political goal: turning Moscow toward a genuine negotiated settlement.

The United States has also provided military assistance to Kiev.

But it amounts thus far to only $120 million and has been limited to nonlethal aid.

Washington needs to do more to get Russia to change course.

That means giving the Ukrainian military sufficient means to make further aggression so costly that Putin and the Russian army are deterred from escalating the fight.

Eight former U.S. national security practitioners — the two of us, plus former U.S. representative to NATO Ivo Daalder, former undersecretary of defense Michèle Flournoy, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst, former deputy undersecretary of defense Jan Lodal, former NATO European commander James Stavridis and former U.S. European Command deputy commander Charles Wald — have come together to issue the following recommendations for immediate action.

They will be released Monday in a report called “Preserving Ukraine’s Independence, Resisting Russian Aggression: What the United States and NATO Must Do.”

First, the White House and Congress must commit serious money to Ukraine’s defense: $1 billion in military assistance this fiscal year, followed by an additional $1 billion each in fiscal year 2016 and 2017.

Congress should not only authorize assistance, as it did in the Ukraine Freedom Support Act last year, but also appropriate funds.

Second, the U.S. government should alter its policy and begin providing lethal assistance to Ukraine.

To be sure, most of the above funds would go to nonlethal assistance.

For example, the Ukrainian army desperately needs counter-battery radars to pinpoint the source of enemy rocket and artillery fire, which cause about 70 percent of Ukrainian casualties.

But the Ukrainians also need some defensive arms, particularly light anti-armor weapons.

The antitank missiles in the Ukrainian inventory are more than 20 years old, and a large proportion of them do not work.

U.S. anti-armor weapons could fill a crucial gap.

Third, the U.S. government should approach other NATO member states about assisting Ukraine, particularly those countries that operate former Soviet equipment and weapons systems compatible with Ukraine’s hardware.

If the United States moves to provide lethal assistance, we believe that some other NATO countries will do so as well.

Time is urgent.

Spring arrives in three months in eastern Ukraine, and fighting could then achieve new intensity.

We should help the Ukrainians deter that.

Source: The Washington Post