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Putin on Ukraine in Washington September 29, 2015

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The following is an excerpt from Vladimir Putin’s speech in Washington in  his attempt to return to the fold of international acceptance. He has been responsible  for turning Russian into a pariah state and is now using Syria as a means to deflect attention from his war mongering in Europe. He has brought out the same cliches to justify the invasion of Ukraine, without mentioning Russian involvement. He blames the Ukraine situation on the expansion of NATO and calls it a “civil war”.  Crimea does not get a mention, MH17 is avoided.

The people of Donbas are rolled out as as the orchestrators of “civil” protest. The Russian mercenaries who have destroyed Donetsk airport and invaded Ukraine and manned the Block Posts and created an exodus of 1.4 million people are not mentioned. The nine thousand victims of the Russian war machine are not mentioned. One can hardly expect honesty from Putin. It has always been in short supply.

PUTIN’s SPEECH TO THE UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY: COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/09/28/read-putins-u-n-general-assembly-speech/

“First, they continue their policy of expanding NATO. What for? If the Warsaw Bloc stopped its existence, the Soviet Union have collapsed (ph) and, nevertheless, the NATO continues expanding as well as its military infrastructure. Then they offered the poor Soviet countries a false choice: either to be with the West or with the East. Sooner or later, this logic of confrontation was bound to spark off a grave geopolitical crisis. This is exactly what happened in Ukraine, where the discontent of population with the current authorities was used and the military coup was orchestrated from outside — that triggered a civil war as a result.

We’re confident that only through full and faithful implementation of the Minsk agreements of February 12th, 2015, can we put an end to the bloodshed and find a way out of the deadlock. Ukraine’s territorial integrity cannot be ensured by threat of force and force of arms. What is needed is a genuine consideration for the interests and rights of the people in the Donbas region and respect for their choice. There is a need to coordinate with them as provided for by the Minsk agreements, the key elements of the country’s political structure. These steps will guarantee that Ukraine will develop as a civilized society, as an essential link and building a common space of security and economic cooperation, both in Europe and in Eurasia.”

Russia vetoes MH17 resolution at the United Nations Security Council July 30, 2015

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Pavel Gubarov Separatist leader at the crash site of MH17 Friday 18th of July 2014. Was this man responsible for the order to shoot the ‘bird’ from the sky? Or was it Colonel Igor Strelkov, the ‘shooter’ of the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk, who first celebrated the downing of the plane with a 5:07 pm announcement on the 17th of July on his social web site.

Photo Bohdan Warchomij

Was it on Vladimir Putin’s direct or indirect order?
There is only one interpretation: One is that he controls Russia single handedly. If so, he must be held personally responsible for what his agents did.

Not surprisingly Russia has used its veto at the UN to block a draft resolution to set up an international tribunal into the MH17 air disaster in July 2014.
The veto of the UN resolution does not put Mr. Putin in a favorable light. In fact it suggests that he accepts some culpability for the crime and is using the veto as a personal defence mechanism.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop called the Russian veto  ”an affront to the memory of the 298 victims of MH17 and their families and friends”.

She said Australia, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Ukraine and Belgium would seek an alternative prosecution mechanism, without giving further details.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said: “There can be no reason to oppose this [draft resolution] unless you are a perpetrator yourself.”

Photo Bohdan Warchomij

In Memorium: An Anniversary Report on the Tragedy of MH17 Bohdan Warchomij July 17, 2015

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A year is a long time since the shooting down of Malaysia Airline’s MH17 over Ukraine on July 17, 2014. But that day remains branded on my memory as graphically as any event I have ever covered. English videographer Elliott Crawford came out of his bedroom in the Mariupol flat we were sharing and announced the breaking news to me. I was as shocked as  the rest of the world and immediately began a web investigation that pointed to a Bukh (BUK) heat seeking missile fired from separatist territory as the perpetrator of what was essentially a war crime.

I worked through the night until 2am and at 4am Australian editors began to call and asked me to cover the story for them. I immediately called a driver and fixer from Mariupol we         had used before in the liberated towns of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk but there was no response and a Ukrainian woman at a Mariupol taxi company found me a willing driver and we packed our kit in a hurry and headed out under a leaden sky. It was 5 am. We headed in the direction of Torez to the village of Hrabovo where the smouldering remains of MH17 and its precious cargo of 298 passengers and crew had plunged to earth.
It was difficult to get through Ukrainian Army checkpoints and through separatist checkpoints. We had SBU accreditation but had not yet made contact with the separatists based in Donetsk.
I dislike the use of the word ‘separatists’ as there is ample evidence that Russian regulars without insignia were used in the Crimean invasion and mercenaries from the  wars involving Chechnya and Georgia have been involved in the East Ukrainian invasion. Adding to that  the Ukrainian Anti Terrorist Operation estimates there are now over 9000 regular Russian Army operatives involved in what seems more and more another ‘frozen’ conflict that benefits only Moscow. I spoke to many of them at the block posts (checkpoints) they controlled and they talked freely about being paid to work in Ukraine.

 

In Hrabovo (Grabovo in Russian) the separatists allowed all journalists through to the still smouldering engines of MH17, a Boering 777. The fact that we didn’t have separatist accreditation didn’t seem to matter. It was a studied response to international pressure and concern. Denial came subsequently, including a poor forgery that blamed the attack on a Ukrainian fighter plane. There was an attempt to contain the fallout from this tragedy. Igor Nikolayevich Bezler’s  who after studying at the Dzerzhinsky Military Academy and  serving in detachments of the Russian General Staff GRU retired as a Lieutenant Colonel. In 2002 Bezler moved to Ukraine. According to Ukrainian officials, in February 2014 he was contacted by agents of the Russian General Staff GRU. Complying with their instructions, Bezler supposedly moved to Crimea where he participated in number of violent events connected with taking over of military installations and government facilities. In April 2014, as a member of a diversionary group, Bezler helped take over the SBU (Sluzhba Bezpeky Ukrayiny) headquarters in Donetsk Oblast and the MVS district department in Horlivka.On April 14, 2014, a YouTube video showed a man claiming to be a lieutenant colonel of the Russian army addressing police officers at the pro-Russian-held Horlivka police station and naming a new police chief. The man was subsequently identified as Bezler. Ukraine accused him and Igor Strelkov, the Shooter, of making the decision to fire the BUK missile. He made the call to kill the “little Birdie” flying above, initially thinking it was a Ukrainian AN-26. Strelkov confirmed the call. On instructions from Moscow, after finding out it was a civilian plane, there were calls to control the site and the collection of the black box.

When we arrived there had been no attempt to rope off the death scene  or to prevent access to the victims. A (at the time) high ranking  leader and self-declared Donetsk ‘people’s governor,’ Pavel Gubarev was conducting media interviews to all who would listen denying responsibility,

Paul Gubarev self styled Governor of Donetsk at the Hrabovo crash site Photo Bohdan Warchomij

There was circumstantial evidence that the victims had been interfered with by the separatists and that belongings had been stolen. We had arrived in Hrabovo  at 12.30pm having forded rivers where bridges had been destroyed, on roads that were virtually impassable.

It was an apocalyptic scene that I will never forget. A woman’s leg ripped from her body had skidded into a bucolic wheat field. It was a peaceful beautiful resting place but tragic in its implications. Myself and the two English videographers covered a couple of square kilometres of terrain with the taxi driver looking after me and carrying my camera bag. Confronted by the horror of death I often left the camera bag behind, meandering in a daze. Body parts jutted from smouldering fuselage, carbonised. Blackened faces wore the trauma of the missile attack on their faces. Body parts had been piled on top of each other without any respect. Demarcation of body parts was signified by white ribbons on sticks placed by the rescue workers in red trucks  from Ukraine.
I self censored my images and sent only photos of wreckage to News Limited for a story that appeared in a full page article in the Sunday Times, knowing that they were unpublishable in Australia. Ironically the full panoply of images including the ones that I carefully composed in order to shield the identity of the victims are available on the web via a simple google search.
I naively thought the missile attack would be a game changer but the Russians immediately went on the attack near Donetsk under the cover of a humanitarian convoy which proved to be a decoy as  tanks continued to roll across the border. It was important for Putin that the separatists were not defeated as the Ukrainian army continued to gain ground. As I travelled through Europe, from Warsaw pact countries like Poland and the Czech Republic Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande travelled to Minsk to play political mind games with Vladimir Putin, the man I consider centrally responsible for the war in Ukraine and for the death of the Australians on board the Boering 777. Putin’s strategy to involve weaponry and regular soldiers proved a turning point in a war that had been swinging on balance to a revitalised Ukrainian army.

Ukrainian defence personnel recovering at a Kyiv Military Hospital Photo Bohdan Warchomij

After the MH17 disaster I fielded numerous radio interviews from Sky News and the ABC vaguely thinking they would make a difference. I moved from Mariupol to Odessa and back to Kyiv and travelled through Western Ukraine  and looked at the displacement of the peoples of the war zones. I met Crimean Tartars living in Lviv and running their own restaurants, and rebuilding their mosques,  as far from Crimea as possible.  In Kyiv I met young people from Luhansk, struggling to get employment in a new city. In Lviv I met Irina Sulatskaya and Vadim Padalko who explained the incursion by mercenaries into their native Donetsk and their attempts to demonstrate against the incursion and to defend the city against the invaders. They are currently running a business in Lviv, a significant distance from their native Donetsk.

Displaced Crimean Tartars in front of the Lviv Opera House Photo Bohdan Warchomij

I travelled to Perpignan to Visa Pour L’Image and was there when Ukrainian photographer Maxim Dondyuk won a well deserved award for Culture of the Confrontation, a photo exhibition of the people’s revolution in Kyiv’s Maidan. His work has been nominated for this year’s Prix Pictet, a significant international photographic competition. There are just 12 finalists. It was a moment to savour. Dondyuk worked for Russian magazines covering the war and it gave him a precarious access. His photos stand as a testament to the courage of Ukrainians.
The agreements set up in Minsk have been largely ignored and new battles are raging again. The weakness of the EU and the US have contributed to Vladimir Putin’s aggressiveness and his military testing of Nato and Baltic states.
The intervening year has been a disappointment to me and I am sure to the families who have lost loved ones. International politics being what it is there have been little steps in the right direction but very little sense of justice.

Hrabovo crash site MH17 Photo Bohdan Warchomij

In the  future Ukraine will continue to embark on its road to democracy and to deal with issues of corruption inherited from its Soviet past. Ukraine’s GDP will continue to contract, unemployment and inflation will increase as Kyiv transforms the country into a market economy. There will be social unrest. There is already wide spread distrust of Poroshenko and the government. It is an endemic particularly Ukrainian state of affairs.
Russia will continue to suffer from Western sanctions and the economies of Russia, Crimea and occupied Donbas will contract and contribute to humanitarian displacement. The Donbas is ruled by warlords who will increasingly control a Pinteresque no man’s land as their economies shrink and the war in Eastern Ukraine will continue. The Ukrainian army is strengthening and the war zone has stabilised. Perpetual war is a genuine possibility. Russian soldiers are massed threateningly on the border as I write.
 In Malaysia Transport Minister Datuk Seri LiowTiong Lai said recently that the interim report on the downing of MH17 should be released before the anniversary. Whether that happens or not there will be few repercussions for the architects of the disaster. The world has little stomach for confrontation. Ukrainians have been left alone to face the invaders of their territory.

US House of Representatives votes in favour of Lethal Aid to Ukraine March 25, 2015

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From Deutsche Welle:The vote in the US House of Representatives puts pressure on President O’Bama and Russia and introduces a dangerous element to the Ukrainian conflict. There is a presumption that there can be a military solution to the conflict and that the Minsk agreements imply a continued appeasement  of Russia.

A resolution to provide lethal aid to Ukrainian security forces has passed the US House with broad bipartisan support. The move puts added pressure on the White House, which is also considering delivering weapons.

Ukraine Rückzug der Armee aus Ostukraine

The United States House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly late Monday to approve a resolution urging President Barack Obama to deliver lethal weapons to Ukraine to fight pro-Russian separatists.

The measure urges Obama to provide Ukraine with “lethal defensive weapon systems” that would better enable Ukraine to defend its territory from “the unprovoked and continuing aggression of the Russian Federation.”

The resolution passed with broad bipartisan support by a count of 348 to 48.

“Policy like this should not be partisan,” said House Democrat Eliot Engel, the lead sponsor of the resolution. “That is why we are rising today as Democrats and Republicans, really as Americans, to say enough is enough in Ukraine.”

Engel warned that Russia under President Vladimir Putin has become “a clear threat to half century of American commitment to an investment in a Europe that is whole, free and at peace. A Europe where borders are not changed by force.”

Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of conducting a hybrid war in Ukraine’s east by propping up the separatists in the provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, charges Moscow denies. The crisis, which began shortly after Russia annexed Crimea last March, has left more than 6,000 dead.

Je Suis Volnovakha January 19, 2015

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Paris  has touched the Ukrainian cities of Kyiv and Volnovakha after the death of 13 civilians. The French phrase has resonated with individual’s commemorating the death of the civilians across the breadth of the country.

KIV15. Volnovakha (Ukraine), 18/01/2015.- A billboard with slogan ‘I am Volnovakha’ is placed at the entrance to the Volnovakha city, Ukraine, 18 January 2015. In the worst incident in recent months, 12 civilians were killed and 18 injured when an artillery shell hit a bus in the eastern Donetsk region on 13 January, local authorities said. The bus was standing at a Ukrainian army checkpoint near the town of Volnovakha when it was hit by a shell fired from pro-Russian separatists, the Kiev-loyal regional government said in a statement. (Ucrania) EFE/EPA/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO

Photo Oles Badio

Donetsk Passenger bus hit by Russian Mercenary Grad Rocket near Volnovakha January 15, 2015

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Edited Report from The Guardian:

Volnovakha Tragedy:

An attack on a passenger bus in eastern Ukraine killed 12 people on Tuesday, probably dealing the final blow to hopes that a short-lived and shaky ceasefire could take hold.

Across Donetsk, the city that Russian-backed separatists call their capital, explosions and the sound of shells whistling overhead are again unnerving the local population. The holiday period was spent in relative tranquillity after a new truce was called in December between government troops and Russian-backed militia. But by late last week, that uneasy calm was steadily unravelling.

In the single largest loss of life so far this year, civilians travelling on a commuter bus from Donetsk were killed on Tuesday afternoon by what Ukrainians say were rockets fired from a Grad launcher in rebel territory. Regional authorities loyal to Kiev said the bus was passing a Ukrainian army checkpoint at the time, putting it in the line of fire.

Leading rebel representative Denis Pushilin denied responsibility for the attack.
The warring sides are now trading accusations over who is responsible for the breakdown in the truce that led to Tuesday’s deaths.

Military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said that separatist attacks in recent days suggest an attempted onslaught to push back the frontline is under way. Separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenko said Ukraine’s armed forces unilaterally resumed hostilities and that his fighters would respond in kind.

An AP reporter over the weekend saw a convoy of around 30 military-style trucks without licence plates heading for Donetsk, suggesting that new supplies were coming in for the rebels.

Ukrainian President arrives in Australia to discuss MH17 and Security Issues with the Australian Government December 11, 2014

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Prime Minister Tony Abbott will reaffirm Australia’s support for Ukraine in its continuing battle against pro-Russian separatists in Canberra later today. Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko arrived in Australia late last night.

The prime minister will use the state visit of Petro Poroshenko, which began on Wednesday night, to discuss their commitment to bringing the perpetrators of the MH17 disaster to justice.

The passenger jet was shot down over eastern Ukraine in July by pro-Russian rebels who are waging an internationally illegal war against Ukrainian government forces.

Among the 298 killed when the Malaysia Airlines plane was downed by a surface-to-air missile were 38 Australian residents.

Metaphor Images photographer Bohdan Warchomij covered the story for News Limited in Australia and internationally and arrived in the village of Hrabovo from Mariupol on the 18th of July 2014, 20 hours after the shooting down of MH17. Images from the disaster site can be seen on the Metaphor Images site www.metaphorimages.com.

Australia’s relationship with Ukraine has deepened significantly after the disaster, with both nations calling for a thorough investigation into who was responsible.

Mr Abbott has pointed the finger at Russia, accusing it of providing Buh missile and military support to the rebels, and threatening Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

In September the prime minister announced non-lethal assistance to Ukraine’s armed forces and the establishment of an interim Australian embassy in Ukraine.

Australia has also contributed nearly $100 million to a global fund to help Ukraine spearhead economic reforms and $1 million in humanitarian aid.

President Petro Poroshenko invited to Australia by Prime Minister Tony Abbott December 3, 2014

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Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko speaks to the media at the Nato summit, Wales

 Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko speaks to the media at the Nato summit near Newport in Wales. He has accepted an invitation to visit Australia. Photograph: Andrew Winning/Reuters

The prime minister, Tony Abbott, has invited the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, to visit Australia to discuss security.

Abbott spoke to Poroshenko on Wednesday night following last weekend’s G20 leaders conference.

“The two leaders discussed the deteriorating situation in Ukraine,” a spokesman for Abbott said. “The prime minister noted that Russia’s continued efforts to destabilise Ukraine and violate its sovereignty had been an issue of concern to many G20 leaders, and that these actions remained a matter of deep concern to the Australian government.”

G20 leaders rebuked the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, over his support for armed separatists in eastern Ukraine, who have been widely blamed for the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in July.

Abbott had threatened to “shirt-front” Putin over the issue at the G20, but took a more diplomatic approach in calling for an apology and compensation for the crash victims’ families.

The Ukrainian charge d’affaires in Australia, Mykola Dzhydzhora, told Guardian Australia Poroshenko had accepted Abbott’s invitation, but no date had been set. It will be the first state visit to Australia by a Ukrainian president.

“Our reaction can be only positive. It is really welcome,” Dzhydzhora said. He acknowledged the security situation in eastern Ukraine would be central to talks between the two leaders.

A spokesman for the Russian embassy played down the visit, saying it was nothing out the ordinary, and pointing to bilateral talks between the Australian and Russian governments after the Apec summit in 2007.

“There is nothing wrong with inviting a leader from another country,” the spokesman told Guardian Australia.

The international community has roundly condemned Russia for destabilising Ukraine by providing material support for separatists. The west has imposed increasingly punitive sanctions on Moscow since Russia annexed Crimea in March.

On Thursday Kiev rejected attempts by Russia to facilitate direct talks between rebels and the Ukrainian government, saying the move would “legitimise terrorists”.

Lithuania calls for United Nations Security Council meeting over Ukraine Invasion by Russia August 29, 2014

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Security Council

UN Security Council (Photo: Reuters)

Lithuania on Thursday accused Russia of a military “invasion” of conflict-torn Ukraine and called for a United Nations Security Council meeting over the issue.

“Lithuania strongly condemns the obvious invasion of the territory of Ukraine by the armed forces of the Russian Federation,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

“Lithuania urges the UN Security Council to discuss this matter immediately.”

The Baltic nation, which is a temporary member of the council, called on Russia “to immediately withdraw its military forces, weaponry and equipment from the sovereign territory of Ukraine”.

Moscow has repeatedly denied Western allegations that it is sending troops into eastern Ukraine, where government forces have been battling pro-Russian separatists in a now four-month-long conflict.

But Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius told AFP on Thursday that “it is aggression and undeclared war, despite denials”.

“Facts and NATO intelligence information make the denials less and less convincing,” he added, calling on the West to provide military support for Ukraine.

The Kremlin was forced to admit Tuesday that a number of its troops captured by Ukrainian forces had crossed the border “by accident”.

Ukraine reported Wednesday that a huge convoy of tanks and weaponry from Russia was moving through the southeast of the country, while Poland said its intelligence service and NATO have evidence that regular units of the Russian army are operating in Ukraine.

The three Baltic nations, which spent five decades under Soviet occupation until 1991, have been following the Ukraine events closely, concerned about the impact of Moscow’s actions there on their security.

Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics for his part took to Twitter on Thursday to condemn Moscow’s actions.

“Russian invasion in Ukraine must be considered by the UN Security Council as act of aggression, UN must react accordingly, this is war,” he said.

From the BBC

A Russian armoured troop-carrier moves with soldiers (troops) atop next to a house set on fire by South Ossetian militia To many western leaders, Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008 now looks part of a pattern

Vladimir Putin has some good reasons to back off in Ukraine. His performance in Ukraine is more complicated.

His retaking of Crimea was popular in Russia in part because it looked so painless: a simple bloodless transfer of power.

But eastern Ukraine is different. It is a bloody, murky conflict with mounting numbers of casualties and refugees. This is a war most Russians do not want to see and which they certainly do not want their sons involved in.

Mr Putin needs to cast himself as a peace envoy, not threaten invasion any more.

To add to that, the Ukraine government’s response has probably been tougher than Mr Putin expected. Having learnt a bitter lesson from Crimea that trying to avoid conflict can lead to territory being seized, President Poroshenko has ordered the army in, to push back at the rebels and negotiate a settlement from a position of relative strength.

And the West too has been more robust and less forgiving than perhaps Mr Putin expected, given what happened in 2008. (That is debatable of course. It seems to be business as usual for Chancellor Merkel and the French Government. ED)

Then, Russia’s short war with Georgia ended after some EU leaders hurriedly brokered a peace deal which left two chunks – South Ossetia and Abkhazia – nominally independent but actually under Moscow’s thumb.

Mr Putin probably thought that once again EU leaders would weigh their economic interests and conclude that a damaging row with Russia was something they could not afford.

In fact, the experience of Georgia has had the opposite effect. It has made the annexation of Crimea look part of a pattern.

It has made some EU countries fear that Mr Putin plans might extend to seizing further territory. And this time they worry that the conflict is not far away in the Caucasus, but right on Europe’s – and Nato’s – doorstep. Hence the co-ordinated push on sanctions, currently still minimal, but which could become tougher in time.

And it seems that Western governments are no longer inclined to take Mr Putin at face value. Having concealed the use of Russian troops in Crimea, when he protests now that none of his troops are involved in Eastern Ukraine, he sounds disingenuous.

He is instead suspected of conducting another “maskirovka” – destabilizing part of Ukraine by stealth, through irregulars and volunteers who are nonetheless with their heavy weapons allowed free access across the Russian border, at the same time as he loudly appeals to Kiev to halt its advance.

Russians Invade Ukraine again and again (Edited from The New York Times) August 28, 2014

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DONETSK, Ukraine — Determined to preserve the pro-Russian revolt in eastern Ukraine, Russia reinforced what Western and Ukrainian officials described as a stealth invasion on Wednesday, sending armored troops across the border as it expanded the conflict to a new section of Ukrainian territory.

The latest incursion, which Ukraine’s military said included five armored personnel carriers, was at least the third movement of troops and weapons from Russia across the southeast part of the border this week, further blunting the momentum Ukrainian forces have made in weakening the insurgents in their redoubts of Donetsk and Luhansk farther north. Evidence of a possible turn was seen in the panicky retreat of Ukrainian soldiers on Tuesday from a force they said had come over the Russian border.

Russia, which has denied it is helping the insurgents, did not acknowledge the military movements. But the Russians have signaled that they would not countenance a defeat of an insurgency in the heavily Russian eastern part of Ukraine, which would amount to a significant domestic political setback for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in his increasingly fractious relationship with the United States and its European allies.

Residents looked on as Novoazovsk, Ukraine, was shelled in the distance Wednesday.CreditSergei Grits/Associated Press

 

“Russia is clearly trying to put its finger on the scale to tip things back in favor of its proxies,” said a senior American official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was discussing intelligence reports. “Artillery barrages and other Russian military actions have taken their toll on the Ukrainian military.”

The Russian military movements carried the potential to poison any hope that a halt to the five-month-old conflict was any closer, one day after the presidents of both countries, at a meeting in Belarus, professed their desire for a solution. Russia’s behavior also raised the possibility of punitive new Western economic sanctions as a reprisal.

Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for the Ukrainian military in Kiev, said the Russian armored column entered the town of Amvrosiyivka, south of Donetsk, expanding what Western and Ukrainian officials have described as one of the main fronts in a multipronged counteroffensive directed by Russia. This week, Ukraine accused Russia of sending an armored column toward the coastal city of Mariupol, far from the fighting around Luhansk and Donetsk, with the aim of diverting Ukrainian forces to deal with that new threat.

The Obama administration accused Russia of lying about its intentions, while European officials angrily demanded answers from the Kremlin. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, who perhaps has the most cordial relationship with Mr. Putin, telephoned him on Wednesday to request an explanation, her office said.

Evidence that Russia was seeking to change the course of the conflict was abundant this week in the small southeast border town of Novoazovsk, where Ukrainian forces beat a nervous retreat on Tuesday, under attack from what fleeing soldiers described as columns of tanks, artillery and combat troops coming across the border.

Exhausted, filthy and dismayed, some Ukrainian soldiers staggering out of Novoazovsk for safer territory said they were cannon fodder for the attacking forces. As they spoke, tank shells whistled in from the east and exploded nearby.

Some of the Ukrainian soldiers appeared unwilling to fight. The commander of their unit, part of the Ninth Brigade from Vinnytsia, in western Ukraine, barked at the men to turn around, to no effect. “All right,” the commander said. “Anybody who refuses to fight, sit apart from the others.” Eleven men did, while the others returned to the city.

Some troops were in full retreat: A city busload of them careened past on the highway headed west, and purple curtains flapped through windows shot out by gunfire.

The United States has photographs that show the Russian artillery moved into Ukraine, American officials say. One photo dated last Thursday, shown to a New York Times reporter, shows Russian military units moving self-propelled artillery into Ukraine. Another photo, dated Saturday, shows the artillery in firing positions in Ukraine.

Advanced air defenses, including systems not known to be in the Ukrainian arsenal, have also been used to blunt the Ukrainian military’s air power, American officials say. In addition, they said, the Russian military routinely flies drones over Ukraine and shares the intelligence with the separatists.

In Novoazovsk, at least, there was no doubt among the retreating Ukrainians that their assailants were coming from Russia.

On the highway in Novoazovsk on Tuesday, Sgt. Ihor Sharapov, a soldier with the Ukrainian border patrol unit, said he had seen tanks drive across the border, although they were marked with flags of the Donetsk People’s Republic. Others suggested the flags were a ruse.

“I tell you they are Russians, but this is what proof I have,” said Sgt. Aleksei Panko, holding up his thumb and index finger to form a zero. Sergeant Panko estimated that about 60 armored vehicles crossed near Novoazovsk. “This is what happened: They crossed the border, took up positions and started shooting.”

The Ukrainian Vinnytsia brigade met the cross-border advance over the six miles of countryside separating Novoazovsk from the Russian border, but later retreated to the western edge of town along the Rostov-Mariupol highway, where soldiers were collapsed in exhaustion on the roadside. “This is now a war with Russia,” Sergeant Panko said.