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Putin's Room to Maneuver
The Fog of War Descends on Eastern Ukraine

Early this morning, an air strike leveled several apartments in the city of Snizhne, killing at least four civilians. Here’s footage of the aftermath, via The Interpreter:

Friendly fire or Russian provocation? Russian media is claiming that two Su-25s carried out the raid, and that one of them was shot down by rebels. The Ukrainian authorities are, naturally, pushing back against these allegations:

“An unknown plane bombed the town of Snizhne,” Mr. Lysenko said. “Bombs fell directly on downtown streets, on Lenin Street. There is information on dead and wounded local citizens, ruined buildings. We declare that since yesterday, when a rescue operation aimed at finding Ukrainian pilots from downed AN-26 began, planes of the armed forces of Ukraine did not make any flight.”

He called the attack “a cynical and bloody provocation in order to discredit the Ukrainian military.”

The AN-26 mentioned above was the Ukrainian plane that was shot down yesterday. Ukrainian authorities claim the missile that downed it came from Russian territory. That claim too is being hotly disputed:

“The place where the plane came down is known and it is far from the Russian border,” said Col. Gen. Yury Solovyov, the ex-commander of Russia’s Special Mission Command, responsible for air defenses, according to the Interfax news service. “Russia has no air defense systems with such a range along the border with Ukraine.”

General Solovyov added: “If the Ukrainian claims had been true, the U.S. would have produced space-based information a long time ago indicating that a Russian air defense system shot down the AN-26. Like us, they see things in real time and notice what flies where and who launches what.”

He told Interfax that the Ukrainian plane could have been hit by a Strela-10 surface-to-air missile, which rebels are known to possess.

An unidentified Western official conceded to the New York Times that the intelligence surrounding the plane’s downing was inconclusive.

We should expect a lot more of this in the coming days and weeks. There’s a lot of room for maneuver between outright war and a stable peace, and Vladimir Putin intends to fully exploit it. He knows full well that most Western countries do not want to stare him down over Ukraine, and as long as he has plausible deniability, he will continue to push the limits to see what he can get away with.

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  • Anti-RINO

    Poll after poll shows that most Americans want the U.S. to stay out of this. The French, along with Germany and the U.S., have been pressuring Russia to stop meddling (a good thing), but where is the simultaneous pressure being placed upon the Kiev gov’t to stop the ultra-nationalists in Ukraine (another good thing)?
    From France24
    Video: Ultra-Nationalist militants fighting alongside Ukraine’s army
    Perhaps France, Germany and the U.S. should take the line of being neither pro-Russia, nor pro-Kiev? Or perhaps place pressure on ultra-nationalist Ukranians and the Russians – both – to stop meddling in this and let the Ukranian army (minus ultra-nationalists help) deal with this?

  • Felix Keverich

    Now, why would Putin target a pro-Russian city? You’re not making any sense at all.

    Ukrainians are doing this stuff. From the beginning of this conflict Ukrainian army tactics in the pro-Russian East resembled those of a foreign occupation force.

    • adk

      Why, really?

      Maybe this, from 1999, will help:

      Russian apartment bombings

      The Russian apartment bombings were a series of explosions that hit four apartment blocks in the Russian cities of Buynaksk, Moscow, and Volgodonsk in September 1999, killing 293 people and injuring 651. The explosions occurred in Buynaksk on September 4, Moscow on September 9th and 14th, and Volgodonsk on September 16. Several other bombs were defused in Moscow at the time.[1]

      A similar bomb was found and defused in the Russian city of Ryazan on September 22, 1999. Two days later, Federal Security Service (FSS) Director Nikolai Patrushev announced that the Ryazan incident had been a training exercise.[2] This led some, such as Alexander Litvinenko and Anna Politkovskaya, to speculate that the apartment bombings had been carried out by the Russian secret service FSB (formerly KGB).

      State Duma deputies Sergei Kovalev, Yuri Shchekochikhin and Sergei Yushenkov, cast doubts on the official version and sought an independent investigation. Anti-Kremlin oligarch Boris Berezovsky (and his close associates Yury Felshtinsky and Alexander Litvinenko), David Satter, Boris Kagarlitsky, Vladimir Pribylovsky, Anna Politkovskaya, as well as the secessionist Chechen authorities and former popular Russian politician Alexander Lebed, claimed that the 1999 bombings were a false flag attack coordinated by the FSB in order to win public support for a new full-scale war in Chechnya. The war boosted Prime Minister and former FSB Director Vladimir Putin’s popularity, and brought the pro-war Unity Party to the State Duma within a few months.

      • Felix Keverich

        Yes, and 9/11 was an inside job ;]

        • adk

          Let me make it simple for you. There’s not a shred of evidence connecting any US official or agency to 9/11.

          On the other hand, in 1999, there was a series of apartment building bombings in different cities in Russia with multiple victims. Putin who was then running for president of Russia (while being mostly unknown to the voters) accused, without any proof, Chechen separatists. On Sep 22, 1999, residents of a building in Ryazan noticed some suspicious people moving something into the basement of their buiding. They called police who arrived and arrested the suspects — who turned out to be FSS (the successor of KGB) operatives.

          FSS director later claimed it was a “training exercise”. A number of prominent Russians who later questioned his account and tied FSS/FSB (and Putin) to the bombings have been either killed or died under murky circumstances (eg, Politkovskaya, Litvinenko, Shchekochikhin, Berezovsky.) In fact, British Secret Service (MI5) who investigated the murder of Litvinenko in London, directly accused FSB operative Andrey Lugovoy, but Russia refused to extradite him.

          Putin’s whole background is KGB — try to connect so many dots on a pretty straight line.

  • gabrielsyme

    There is definitely misinformation coming from both sides, but in the abscence of definitive evidence, the simplest explanation should be preferred. For Russia to engage in a false-flag operation at this point in the conflict, targeting a rebel-controlled city would be exceedingly risky, and it is not clear what strategic advantage even a successful operation would achieve.

  • lukelea

    I’d like to know if the US is backing Kiev’s aggressive military tactics to bring the eastern half of the country to heel? We certainly haven’t seen any evidence to the contrary.

  • lukelea

    Whatever happened to the idea of a buffer state?

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