KIEV, Ukraine (PNN) - August 25, 2014 - An apparent incursion of tanks and personnel carriers into southeastern Ukraine on Monday, one day before a high-stakes summit, demonstrated just how difficult it will be for Ukraine to reestablish control over its own territory.
Even as Russian-backed separatists are losing ground on the battlefield, provocations launched from the Russian side of the two countries’ long border remain a constant threat.
The bold moves in recent days have complicated the already tense situation in Ukraine, which has been rent by a civil war that has left 2,000 dead in the past five months.
Doubts have been raised that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko will be able to make any headway toward a peace agreement Tuesday, when they head to Minsk, Belarus, to attend a summit with other European leaders to discuss the conflict.
The summit was set to talk about free-trade issues between the two countries in light of Ukraine’s pending affiliation with the European Union, but likely will be consumed by the war. At the bargaining table, Russia wants recognition of its annexation of Crimea, rights for Russian-speaking minorities and a cease-fire; Ukraine wants Crimea returned, tighter borders and an end to the uprising.
On Monday, Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said Russian military vehicles flying separatist flags “violated the state border of Ukraine” near Novoazovsk in the southern part of the Donetsk region and engaged in firefights with Ukrainian forces. If true, it would be one of the first times that Russia had penetrated the Ukrainian border outside friendly rebel territory. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he had not heard of the incursion and generally dismissed such accusations as misinformation.
Yet even those fighting were wondering about the motives behind the sudden appearance of the tanks. Semyon Semenchenko, the commander of a pro-government volunteer battalion in the Donetsk region, called the situation a “small local invasion” and suggested in a television interview that the Russians may be trying to “put the pressure on our president” in advance of Tuesday’s meetings.