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.