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From Wikipedia the free encyclopedia
Despite being an independent country since 1991 as the former Soviet republic Ukraine has been perceived by Russia as being part of its sphere of influence. Iulian Chifu and his co-authors claim that in regard to Ukraine Russia pursues a modernized version of the Brezhnev Doctrine on "limited sovereignty" which dictates that the sovereignty of Ukraine cannot be larger than that of the Warsaw Pact prior to the demise of the Soviet sphere of influence. This claim is based on statements of Russian leaders that possible integration of Ukraine into NATO would jeopardize Russia's national security.
Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 both Ukraine and Russia continued to retain very close ties for decades. At the same time there were several sticking points most importantly Ukraine's significant nuclear arsenal which Ukraine agreed to abandon in the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances (December 1994) on the condition that Russia (and the other signatories) would issue an assurance against threats or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine. In 1999 Russia was one of signatories of Charter for European Security where it "reaffirmed the inherent right of each and every participating State to be free to choose or change its security arrangements including treaties of alliance as they evolve"; both would prove worthless in 2014.
A second point was the division of the Black Sea Fleet. Ukraine agreed to lease a number of naval facilities including those in Sevastopol so that the Russian Black Sea fleet could continue to be based there together with Ukrainian naval forces. Starting in 1993 through the 1990s and 2000s Ukraine and Russia engaged in several gas disputes. In 2001 Ukraine along with Georgia Azerbaijan and Moldova formed a group called GUAM Organization for Democracy and Economic Development which was seen by Russia as a direct challenge to the CIS the Russian-dominated trade group established after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russia was further irritated by the Orange Revolution of 2004 which saw the Ukrainian populist Viktor Yushchenko elected president instead of the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovich. Moreover Ukraine continued to increase its cooperation with NATO deploying the third-largest contingent of troops to Iraq in 2004 as well as dedicating peacekeepers to NATO missions such as the ISAF force in Afghanistan and KFOR in Kosovo.
A pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovich was elected in 2010 and Russia felt that many ties with Ukraine could be repaired. Prior to this Ukraine had not renewed the lease of naval facilities in Crimea meaning that Russian troops would have to leave Crimea by 2017. However Yanukovich signed a new lease and expanded allowable troop presence as well as allowing troops to train in the Kerch peninsula. Many in Ukraine viewed the extension as unconstitutional because Ukraine's constitution states that no permanent foreign troops shall be stationed in Ukraine after the Sevastopol treaty expired. Yulia Tymoshenko the main opposition figure of Yanukovich was jailed on charges that were called political persecution by international observers leading to further dissatisfaction with the government. In November 2013 Viktor Yanukovich declined to sign an association agreement with the European Union a treaty that had been in development for several years and one that Yanukovich had earlier approved of. Yanukovich instead favored closer ties with Russia.
In September 2013 Russia warned Ukraine that if it went ahead with a planned agreement on free trade with the EU it would face financial catastrophe and possibly the collapse of the state. Sergey Glazyev adviser to President Vladimir Putin said that "Ukrainian authorities make a huge mistake if they think that the Russian reaction will become neutral in a few years from now. This will not happen." Russia had already imposed import restrictions on certain Ukrainian products and Glazyev did not rule out further sanctions if the agreement was signed. Glazyev allowed for the possibility of separatist movements springing up in the Russian-speaking east and south of Ukraine. He insisted that contrary to international law if Ukraine signed the agreement from a legal point of view the Ukrainian government would violate the bilateral treaty on strategic partnership and friendship with Russia that delineates the countries' borders. Russia would no longer guarantee Ukraine's status as a state and could possibly intervene if pro-Russian regions of the country appealed directly to Russia.
Euromaidan and Anti-Maidan
Following months of protests as part of the Euromaidan movement on 22 February 2014 protesters ousted the government of Viktor Yanukovych who had been democratically elected in 2010. The protesters took control of government buildings in the capital city of Kyiv along with the city itself. As the police abandoned their posts across the capital Kyiv and the opposition established control over key intersections and the parliament President Yanukovych fled Kyiv for Kharkiv in the east of Ukraine where he traditionally has had more support. After this incident the Ukrainian parliament voted to restore the 2004 Constitution of Ukraine and remove Yanukovych from power. A vote on the resolution that stated that Yanukovych "is removing himself [from power] because he is not fulfilling his obligations" emerged 328–0 in support. The vote was 10 short of three-quarters of the Parliament members the requirement of the Constitution of Ukraine for impeachment. Yanukovych stated that the vote was unconstitutional because of this issue [c] and refused to resign. Leaders of Russian-speaking eastern regions of Ukraine declared continuing loyalty to Yanukovych.
One of the first issues the parliament approached was that of the language annulling a bill that provided for Russian to be used as a second official government language in regions with large Russian-speaking populations. The parliament adopted a bill to repeal the 2012 law on minority languages which protected the status of languages other than Ukrainian. The proposal alienated many in the Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine and a few days later on 1 March acting President Oleksandr Turchynov said that he refused to sign the bill and he promised to veto (but did not make it) effectively stopping its enactment.
In the meantime on the morning of 27 February Berkut special police units from Crimea and other regions of Ukraine which had been dissolved on 25 February seized checkpoints on the Isthmus of Perekop and Chonhar peninsula. According to Ukrainian MP Hennadiy Moskal former chief of the Crimean police these Berkut had armoured personnel carriers grenade launchers assault rifles machine guns and other weapons. Since then they have controlled all land traffic between Crimea and continental Ukraine.
Russian financing of militias ("Glazyev tapes")
In August 2016 the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) published the first batch of telephone intercepts from 2014 of Sergey Glazyev (Russian presidential adviser) Konstantin Zatulin and other people in which they discussed covert funding of pro-Russian activists in Eastern Ukraine the occupation of administration buildings and other actions that in due course led to the armed conflict. Glazyev refused to deny the authenticity of the intercepts while Zatulin confirmed they were real but "taken out of context". Further batches were presented as evidence during criminal proceedings against former president Yanukovych in Kyiv's Obolon court between 2017 and 2018.
As early as February 2014 Glazyev was giving direct instructions to various pro-Russian parties in Ukraine to instigate unrest in Donetsk Kharkiv Zaporizhia and Odessa. Glazyev instructs various pro-Russian actors on the necessity of taking over local administration offices what to do after they were taken over how to formulate their demands and makes various promises about support from Russia including "sending our guys".
Konstantin Zatulin: ... That's the main story. I want to say about other regions – we have financed Kharkiv financed Odesa.
Sergey Glazyev: Look the situation in the process. Kharkiv Regional State Administration has been already stormed in Donetsk the Regional State Administration has been stormed. It is necessary to storm Regional State Administration and gather regional deputies there!
Sergey Glazyev: It is very important that people appeal to Putin. Mass appeals directly to him with a request to protect an appeal to Russia etc. This appeal has been already in your meeting.
Denis Yatsyuk: So we after storming building of Regional State Administration we gather a session of the Regional State Administration right? We invite MPs and force them to vote? [...]— Sergey Glazyev et al. "English translation of audio evidence of the involvement of Putin's adviser Glazyev and other Russian politicians in the war in Ukraine" UAPosition.com
In further calls recorded in February and March 2014 Glazyev points out that the "peninsula doesn't have its own electricity water or gas" and a "quick and effective" solution would be expansion to the north. According to Ukrainian journalists this indicates that the plans for military intervention in Donbas to form a Russia-controlled puppet state of Novorossiya to ensure supplies to annexed Crimea were discussed long before the conflict actually started in April. Some also pointed out the similarity of the planned Novorossiya territory to the previous ephemeric project of South-East Ukrainian Autonomous Republic proposed briefly in 2004 by pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine.
On 4 March 2014 Russian permanent representative to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin presented a photocopy of a letter signed by Victor Yanukovich on 1 March 2014 asking that Russian president Vladimir Putin use Russian armed forces to "restore the rule of law peace order stability and protection of the population of Ukraine". Both houses of the Russian parliament voted on 1 March to give President Putin the right to use Russian troops in Crimea. On 24 June Vladimir Putin asked the Russian parliament to cancel the resolution on use of Russian forces in Ukraine. The next day the Federation Council voted to repeal its previous decision making it illegal to use Russian organized military forces in Ukraine.
Russian bases in Crimea
Beside the Black Sea Fleet according to treaties between the Russian Federation and Ukraine such as the Kharkiv Pact among few in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea were located Russian Armed Forces in several localities throughout Crimean peninsula like Sevastopol Kacha Hvardiiske Simferopol Raion Sarych and several others. The dislocation of the Russian armed forces in Crimea was not disclosed clearly to public which led to several incidents like the 2005 conflict near Sarych cape lighthouse.[failed verification] The total number of Russian military component in Crimea was limited to a maximum of 25 000 troops 132 armored combat vehicles and 24 pieces of artillery. Their activity on the peninsula was not unconstrained however: the agreements required Russian forces in Crimea to respect the sovereignty of Ukraine honor its legislation and not interfere in the internal affairs of the country. They were required to show their "military identification cards" when crossing the international border and their operations beyond designated deployment sites was permitted only after coordination with the competent agencies of Ukraine.
According to original treaty on division of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet signed in 1997 the Russian Federation was allowed to have its military bases in Crimea until 2017 after which it had to evacuate all its military units including its portion of the Black Sea Fleet out of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol. However Russia never really planned to move its fleet to Russia. On 21 April 2010 the former President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych signed a new deal known as the Kharkiv Pact extending the stay until 2042 with an option to renew and in return receiving some discount on gas delivered from the Russian Federation (see 2009 Russia–Ukraine gas dispute). The Kharkiv Pact was rather an update to complex of several fundamental treaties that were signed in 1990s between prime ministers of both countries Viktor Chernomyrdin (Russia) and Pavlo Lazarenko (Ukraine) and presidents Boris Yeltsin (Russia) and Leonid Kuchma (Ukraine). The Constitution of Ukraine whilst having a general prohibition of a deployment of foreign bases on the country's soil originally also had a transitional provision which allowed the use of existing military bases on the territory of Ukraine for the temporary stationing of foreign military formations. This permitted Russian military to keep its basing in Crimea as an "existing military base". The constitutional provision on "[pre]-existing bases" was revoked in 2019 but by that time Russia had already annexed Crimea and withdrew from the basing treaties unilaterally.
The treaty about the Black Sea Fleet was also based on the 1997 Treaty about Friendship Cooperation and Partnership between Ukraine and the Russian Federation and the 1993 agreement about Free Trade. The 1997 Treaty about Friendship was based on the 1990 Treaty between the Ukrainian SSR and the Russian SFSR that was in its turn based on declarations about state sovereignty of both republics.
Reactions to the Russian intervention in Donbas
Main article: International reactions to the war in Donbas
Amnesty International considers the war to be "an international armed conflict" and presented independent satellite photos analysis proving involvement of regular Russian army in the conflict. It accuses Ukrainian militia and separatist forces for being responsible for war crimes and has called on all parties including Russia to stop violations of the laws of war. Amnesty has expressed its belief that Russia is fueling the conflict 'both through direct interference and by supporting the separatists in the East' and called on Russia to 'stop the steady flow of weapons and other support to an insurgent force heavily implicated in gross human rights violations.'
NATO – The Russian government's decision to send a truck convoy into Luhansk on 22 August without Ukrainian consent was condemned by NATO and several NATO member states including the United States. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen called it "a blatant breach of Russia's international commitments" and "a further violation of Ukraine's sovereignty by Russia".
European Union – Leaders warned that Russia faced harsher economic sanctions than the EU had previously imposed if it failed to withdraw troops from Ukraine. In 2015 the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe [PACE] published a resolution that openly speaks about a "Russian aggression in Ukraine".
Ukraine – Chairman of the Ukrainian Parliament Oleksandr Turchynov said "It's a hybrid war that Russia has begun against Ukraine a war with the participation of the Russian security services and the army."
United States – US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power commented on the invasion by noting that "At every step Russia has come before this council to say everything but the truth. It has manipulated obfuscated and outright lied. Russia has to stop lying and has to stop fuelling this conflict." The United States government said it supported stiffer sanctions as well.
Nordic countries – On 9 April 2015 a joint declaration by the ministers of defence of Norway Denmark Finland and Sweden and the minister of foreign affairs of Iceland (which does not have a ministry of defence) was brought by the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten. The declaration first asserts that the Russian aggression against Ukraine and the illegal annexation of Crimea is a violation of international law and other international treaties and that the Nordic countries must judge Russia not by the rhetoric of the Kremlin but by the actions of the country. After pointing out that Russia has increased its military exercise and intelligence gathering activity in the Baltic and Northern areas violating Nordic borders and jeopardizing civilian air traffic the declaration states the intention of the Nordic countries to face this new situation with solidarity and increased cooperation. The Nordic unity commitment is extended to include solidarity with the Baltic countries and to a collaboration within NATO and EU to strengthen also the unity within these entities and to maintain the cross-Atlantic link.
Main article: 2014 anti-war protests in Russia
Street protests against the war in Ukraine have arisen in Russia itself. Notable protests first occurred in March and large protests occurred in September when "tens of thousands" protested the war in Ukraine with a peace march in downtown Moscow on Sunday 21 September 2014 "under heavy police supervision".
Critics of Vladimir Putin also express cautious criticism in the press and social media. Garry Kasparov a consistent critic of Putin whom he has called 'a revanchist KGB thug' has written on the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 shootdown and called for Western action.
An August 2014 survey by the Levada Center reported that only 13% of those Russians polled would support the Russian government in an open war with Ukraine.
Former Russian vice-minister of foreign affairs Georgy Kunadze (1991 –1993) said that if Western policy toward Russia had been tougher in 2008 during the Russo-Georgian War "there would be no Crimea nor Lugandon" (the latter was a reference to the LPR).
Ukrainian public opinion
See also: Putin khuilo!
A poll of the Ukrainian public excluding Russian-annexed Crimea was taken by the International Republican Institute from 12 to 25 September 2014. 89% of those polled opposed 2014 Russian military intervention in Ukraine. As broken down by region 78% of those polled from Eastern Ukraine (including Dnipropetrovsk Oblast) opposed said intervention along with 89% in Southern Ukraine 93% in Central Ukraine and 99% in Western Ukraine. As broken down by native language 79% of Russian speakers and 95% of Ukrainian speakers opposed the intervention. 80% of those polled said the country should remain a unitary country.
A poll of the Crimean public in Russian-annexed Crimea was taken by the Ukrainian branch of Germany's biggest market research organization GfK on 16–22 January 2015. According to its results: "Eighty-two percent of those polled said they fully supported Crimea's inclusion in Russia and another 11 percent expressed partial support. Only 4 percent spoke out against it."
In March 2014 Estonia's president Toomas Hendrik Ilves said: "Justification of a military invasion by a fabricated need to protect ethnic "compatriots" resuscitates the arguments used to annex Sudetenland in 1938." During the Group of 20 (G-20) summit of world leaders in Brisbane Australia in November 2014 an incident occurred during private meetings that became quite public. At the private leaders' retreat held the weekend before the official opening of the summit Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper told Russian President Vladimir Putin "I guess I'll shake your hand but I have only one thing to say to you: You need to get out of Ukraine." The incident occurred as Putin approached Harper and a group of G-20 leaders and extended his hand toward Harper. After the event was over a "spokesman for the Russian delegation said Putin's response was: 'That's impossible because we are not there'."
In March 2015 NATO's top commander in Europe General Philip M. Breedlove has been criticized by German politicians and diplomats as spreading "dangerous propaganda" by constantly inflating the figures of Russian military involvement in an attempt to subvert the diplomatic solution of the war in Donbas spearheaded by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. According to Germany's Der Spiegel magazine "the German government supported by intelligence gathered by the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) Germany's foreign intelligence agency did not share the view of NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR)."
In 2017 Ukraine opened a case against Russia for involvement and financing of terrorism and racial discrimination in military occupied Autonomous Republic of Crimea and part of Donbas.
Main article: War in Donbas
See also: Timeline of the war in Donbas
The war in Donbas is an armed conflict in the Donbas region of Ukraine. From the beginning of March 2014 demonstrations by pro-Russian and anti-government groups took place in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of Ukraine together commonly called the "Donbas" in the aftermath of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution and the Euromaidan movement. These demonstrations which followed the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation and which were part of a wider group of concurrent pro-Russian protests across southern and eastern Ukraine escalated into an armed conflict between the Russia-backed separatist forces of the self-declared Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics (DPR and LPR respectively) and the Ukrainian government. The SBU claimed key commanders of the rebel movement during the beginning of the conflict including Igor Strelkov and Igor Bezler were Russian agents. The prime minister of Donetsk People's Republic from May to August 2014 was a Russian citizen Alexander Borodai. From August 2014 all top positions in Donetsk and Lugansk have been held by Ukrainian citizens. Russian volunteers are reported to make up from 15% to 80% of the combatants with many claimed to be former military personnel. Recruitment for the Donbas insurgents was performed openly in Russian cities using private or voyenkomat facilities as was confirmed by a number of Russian media.
In an interview with French television channel TF1 and Radio Europe1 in June 2014 Russian president Vladimir Putin said: "There are no armed forces no 'Russian instructors' in Ukraine—and there never were any."
Economic and material circumstances in Donbas had generated neither necessary nor sufficient conditions for a locally rooted internally driven armed conflict. The role of the Kremlin's military intervention was paramount for the commencement of hostilities.
In late March Russia continued the buildup of military forces near Ukraine reaching 30–40 000 troops total. Concerns were expressed that Russia may again be readying an incursion into Ukraine following its annexation of Crimea.
American and Ukrainian officials said they had evidence of Russian interference in Ukraine including intercepted communications between Russian officials and Donbas insurgents.
Ukrainian media have described the well-organised and well-armed pro-Russian militants as similar to those which occupied regions of Crimea during the Crimean crisis. The former deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Admiral Ihor Kabanenko said that the militants are Russian military reconnaissance and sabotage units. Arsen Avakov stated that the militants in Krasnyi Lyman used Russian-made AK-100 series assault rifles fitted with grenade launchers and that such weapons are only issued in the Russian Federation. "The Government of Ukraine is considering the facts of today as a manifestation of external aggression by Russia " said Avakov. Militants in Sloviansk arrived in military lorries without license plates. A reporter from Russia's Novaya Gazeta having visited separatist artillery positions in Avdeyevka wrote that in his opinion "it's impossible that the cannons are handled by volunteers" as they require a trained and experienced team including observers and adjustment experts.
David Patrikarakos a correspondent for the New Statesman said the following: "While at the other protests/occupations there were armed men and lots of ordinary people here it almost universally armed and masked men in full military dress. Automatic weapons are everywhere. Clearly a professional military is here. There's the usual smattering of local militia with bats and sticks but also a military presence. Of that there is no doubt." Zbigniew Brzezinski a former American National Security Advisor said that the events in the Donbas were similar to events in Crimea which led to its annexation by Russia and noted that Russia acted similarly.
In April 2014 a US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said "there has been broad unity in the international community about the connection between Russia and some of the armed militants in eastern Ukraine". The Ukrainian government released photos of soldiers in eastern Ukraine which the US State Department said showed that some of the fighters were Russian special forces. US Secretary of State John Kerry said the militants "were equipped with specialized Russian weapons and the same uniforms as those worn by the Russian forces that invaded Crimea." The US ambassador to the United Nations said the attacks in Sloviansk were "professional " "coordinated " and that there was 'nothing grass-roots seeming about it'. The British foreign secretary William Hague stated "I don't think denials of Russian involvement have a shred of credibility ... The forces involved are well armed well trained well equipped well co-ordinated behaving in exactly the same way as what turned out to be Russian forces behaved in Crimea." The commander of NATO operations in Europe Philip M. Breedlove assessed that soldiers appeared to be highly trained and not a spontaneously formed local militia and that "what is happening in eastern Ukraine is a military operation that is well planned and organized and we assess that it is being carried out at the direction of Russia."
The New York Times journalists interviewed Sloviansk militants and found no clear link of Russian support: "There was no clear Russian link in the 12th Company's arsenal but it was not possible to confirm the rebels' descriptions of the sources of their money and equipment." Commenting on the presence of the Vostok Battalion within insurgent ranks Denis Pushilin self-declared Chairman of the People's Soviet of the Donetsk People's Republic said on 30 May "It's simply that there were no volunteers [from Russia] before and now they have begun to arrive – and not only from Russia."
A significant number of Russian citizens many veterans or ultranationalists are currently involved in the ongoing armed conflict a fact acknowledged by separatist leaders. Carol Saivets Russian specialist for the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology described the role of Russian soldiers as 'almost certainly' proceeding with the blessing and backing of the Russian state "even if the Russians are indeed volunteers rather than serving military men".
A Russian opposition politician Ilya Ponomarev said "I am absolutely confident that in the eastern regions of Ukraine there are Russian troops in very small numbers. And it's not regular soldiers but likely representatives of special forces and military intelligence." Later in July after the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 he said that "Putin now understands that he has passed weapons to the wrong people". He also said that even if Moscow stopped the supply of weapons to the Donbas there would still be enough supporters of the war within the Russian military to continue such shipments unofficially.
Separatist leaders such as Aleksey Mozgovoy visited Moscow and were evasive about who was supplying their weapons.
At a meeting held on 7 July in the city of Donetsk Russian politician Sergey Kurginyan held a press conference with representatives of the Donbas People's Militia including Pavel Gubarev and said that Russia did provide significant military support for the separatists. During a discussion among the participants Gubarev complained that the arms that had been sent were old and not fully functional. In response Kurginyan listed specific items including 12 000 automatic rifles grenade launchers 2S9 Nona self-propelled mortars two BMPs and three tanks that he knew had been supplied to the separatists by Russia. He also said he saw new fully functional weapons unloaded at locations in Donbas which he would not "disclose as we are filmed by cameras". Kurginyan admitted that Russia had initially sent "4th category weapons" but since 3 June had supplied equipment that was fully functional. He also said one of his goals whilst in Donetsk was to ensure that military support from Russia was increased.
An Ukrainian An-26 military cargo plane was shot down over the Ukrainian village of Davydo Myilske near the Russian border on 14 July. It had been flying at an altitude of 6 500 metres. The head of Ukraine's Security Service Valentyn Nalyvaichenko stated on 15 July that the SBU had "indisputable" evidence of Russian involvement in the attack.
Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over the conflict zone on 17 July near Torez in Donetsk Oblast over an area of Ukraine controlled by pro-Russia separatists. Evidence from open sources indicated that Buk missile launcher that widely believed to have been used to shoot down the passenger flight came from Russia and was transported on 17 July from Donetsk to Snizhne. According to Bellingcat the launcher was operated by Russian military of 53rd Anti-Aircraft Rocket Brigade.
Main article: Malaysia Airlines Flight 17
In August Russia sent dozens of white lorries green army trucks painted white into eastern Ukraine without inspection by Ukraine. The trucks were "almost empty" the BBC's Steve Rosenberg reported and the action was characterized as a diversion a distraction so that at other points equipment and personnel came into Ukraine.
On 17 August Ukraine accused Russia of sending more military equipment including Grad rocket launchers across the border and on to Nizhny Nagolchyk. Sergei Lavrov continued to deny that Russia was sending any equipment across the border. He asserted that an OSCE observer mission placed at border crossing points in the region had not identified any unlawful crossings of the border but the OSCE mission that Lavrov mentioned had no mandate to check the long unguarded sections of the border where crossings of men and equipment occurred frequently.
Ukrainian Defence Minister Valeriy Heletey said on 21 August that the militants were using Russian-made weapons that had never been used or bought by the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Injured pro-Russian fighters were usually treated in Russia with help from the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations. They were also questioned and registered by the Federal Security Service (FSB) the Russian domestic security and intelligence agency.
Bellingcat has reported on the presence of Russian T-72B3 and T-90A tanks in the Donbas since 2014; the significance of this is that these tanks were not exported to or fielded by Ukraine. T-72B3 and T-90A tanks have reportedly been used near Ilovaisk Luhansk airport and Debaltseve.
2014 cross-border artillery shelling
Russia shelled Ukrainian units from across the border since mid-July. On 11 July 2014 a Ukrainian camp in Zelenopillya village near Ukrainian-Russian border was shelled by modern Russian MLRS system 9K51M "Tornado-G" suffering heavy casualties.
Main article: Zelenopillya rocket attack
On 24 July the American government stated that it had evidence that the Russian military was firing on Ukrainian territory from across the border. A spokesman for the US Department of Defence stated that there was "no question" as to Russia's involvement in the attacks on Ukrainian Armed Forces. On 28 July it published satellite photos showing heavy artillery shelling Ukrainian positions from Russian territory. On 27 July U.S. officials confirmed Russia had shelled Ukrainian territory. At the time Russian government spokesman denied these allegations.
The shelling escalated at least one week prior to the invasion. According to NATO reports Russian military shelled Ukrainian positions across the border from mid-August and by 22 August Russian artillery and personnel had crossed the border into Ukraine itself.
August 2014 military invasion
In early August according to Igor Strelkov Russian servicemen supposedly on "vacation" from the army began to arrive in Donbas.
On 13 August members of the Russian Human Rights Commission stated that over 100 Russian soldiers had been killed in the fighting in Ukraine and inquired why they were there.
A convoy of military vehicles including armoured personnel carriers with official Russian military plates crossed into Ukraine near the militant-controlled Izvaryne border crossing on 14 August. The Ukrainian government later announced that they had destroyed most of the armoured column with artillery. Secretary General of NATO Anders Fogh Rasmussen said this incident was a "clear demonstration of continued Russian involvement in the destabilisation of eastern Ukraine". The same day Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking to Russian ministers and Crimean parliamentarians on a visit to Crimea undertook to do everything he could to end the conflict in Ukraine saying Russia needed to build calmly and with dignity not by confrontation and war which isolated it from the rest of the world. The comments came as international sanctions against Russia were being stepped up.
On 22 August 2014 according to NATO officials Russia moved self-propelled artillery onto the territory of Ukraine.
On 24 August 2014 President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko referred to the anti-terrorist operation (ATO) as Ukraine's "Patriotic War of 2014" and a war against "external aggression". The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine labeled the conflict an invasion on 27 August 2014.
On 26 August 2014 a mixed column composed of at least 3 T-72B1s and a lone T-72BM was identified on a video from Sverdlovsk Ukraine by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. The sighting undermined Russia's attempts to maintain plausible deniability over the issue of supplying tanks and other arms to the separatists. Russia continuously claimed that any tanks operated by the separatists must have been captured from Ukraine's own army. The T-72BM is in service with the Russian Army in large numbers. This modernized T-72 is not known to have been exported to nor operated by any other country. Reuters found other tanks of this type near Horbatenko in October. In November the United Kingdom's embassy in Ukraine also published an infographic demonstrating specific features of the T-72 tanks used by separatists not present in tanks held by Ukrainian army addressing it to "help Russia recognize its own tanks". The equipment included for example Thales Optronics thermal vision instruments exported to Russia between 2007 and 2012 only.
On 27 August two columns of Russian tanks entered Ukrainian territory in support of the pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk and engaged Ukrainian border forces but US officials were reluctant to declare that Russia had begun invading Ukraine. NATO officials stated that over 1 000 Russian troops were operating inside Ukraine but termed the incident an incursion rather than an invasion. The Russian government denied these claims. NATO published satellite photos which it said showed the presence of Russian troops within Ukrainian territory. The pro-Russian separatists admitted that Russian troops were fighting alongside them stating that this was "no secret" but that the Russian troops were just soldiers who preferred to take their vacations fighting in Ukraine rather than "on the beach". The Prime Minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic stated that 3 000 to 4 000 Russian troops had fought in separatist ranks and that most of them had not returned to Russia having continued to fight in Ukraine.
On 28 August members of the commission called the presence of Russian troops on Ukrainian soil "an outright invasion". The same day Ukraine ordered national mandatory conscription.
In late August NATO released satellite images which it considered to be evidence of Russian operations inside Ukraine with sophisticated weaponry and after the setbacks of Ukrainian forces by early September it was evident Russia had sent soldiers and armour across the border and locals acknowledged the role of Putin and Russian soldiers in effecting a reversal of fortunes.
The 76th Guards Air Assault Division based in Pskov allegedly entered Ukrainian territory in August and engaged in a skirmish near Luhansk suffering 80 dead. The Ukrainian Defence Ministry said that they had seized two of the unit's armoured vehicles near Luhansk city and reported about another three tanks and two armoured vehicles of pro-Russian forces destroyed in other regions. The Russian government denied the skirmish took place.
Around 29–30 August Russian tanks destroyed "virtually every house" in Novosvitlivka a suburb village of Luhansk according to Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko.
On 18 August the 76th Guards Air Assault Division was awarded with Order of Suvorov one of Russia's highest awards by Russian minister of defence Sergey Shoigu for the "successful completion of military missions" and "courage and heroism". Russian media highlighted that the medal is awarded exclusively for combat operations and reported that a large number of soldiers from this division had died in Ukraine just days before but their burials were conducted in secret. Some Russian media such as Pskovskaya Guberniya reported that Russian paratroopers may have been killed in Ukraine. Journalists traveled to Pskov the reported burial location of the troops to investigate. Multiple reporters said they had been attacked or threatened there and that the attackers erased several camera memory cards. Pskovskaya Guberniya revealed transcripts of phone conversations between Russian soldiers being treated in a Pskov hospital for wounds received while fighting in Ukraine. The soldiers reveal that they were sent to the war but told by their officers that they were going on "an exercise".
A Bellingcat contributor published a series of investigations revealing the involvement of the Russian Northern Fleet Coastal troops units 200th Motor Rifle Brigade and 61st Naval Infantry Brigade which had participated in combats in Luhansk region: Troops of the 200th Motor Rifle Brigade fought in a battle of Luhansk Airport and later in October in clashes for 32nd checkpoint. Marines of the 61st Naval Infantry Brigade were spotted in Luhansk and took part in fights in villages nearby.
See also: Battle of Ilovaisk
On 24 August 2014 Amvrosiivka was occupied by Russian paratroopers supported by 250 armoured vehicles and artillery pieces. Ten Russian paratroopers of the 331st Guards Airborne Regiment military unit 71211 from Kostroma were captured in Dzerkalne that day a village near Amvrosiivka 20 kilometres (12 mi) from the border after their armoured vehicles were hit by Ukrainian artillery. On 25 August the Security Service of Ukraine reported about the captured paratroopers claiming they've crossed Ukrainian border in the night of 23 August. The SBU also released their photos and names. The next day the Russian Ministry of Defence said that they had crossed the border "by accident". On 31 August the Russian media reported that ten Russian paratroopers captured inside Ukraine had returned home following a troop exchange. The 64 Ukrainian troops provided in exchange were captured after entering Russia to escape the upsurge in fighting. Russia claimed that the Russian troops had mistakenly crossed an unmarked area of the border while on patrol. Ukraine released videos of captured Russian soldiers which challenged Russia's claim that it had nothing to do with the conflict.
On 29 August after Ukrainian forces agreed to surrender Ilovaisk they were bombarded by Russian forces while they evacuated through a "green corridor." The assault on the troops who were marked with white flags was variously described as a "massacre." At least 100 were killed.
According to Bellingcat Russian military vehicles crossing the border of Ukraine and artillery positions close to the Ukrainian borders are clearly visible on satellite photos from 23 August 2014.
On 25 August a column of Russian tanks and military vehicles was reported to have crossed into Ukraine in the southeast near the town of Novoazovsk located on the Azov sea coast and headed towards Ukrainian-held Mariupol in an area that had not seen pro-Russian presence for weeks. The Bellingcat's investigation reveals some details of this operation. Russian forces captured the city of Novoazovsk. and Russian soldiers began arresting and deporting to unknown locations all Ukrainians who did not have an address registered within the town. Pro-Ukrainian anti-war protests took place in Mariupol which was threatened by Russian troops. The UN Security Council called an emergency meeting to discuss the situation.
On 3 September a Sky News team filmed groups of troops near Novoazovsk wearing modern combat gear typical for Russian units and traveling in new military vehicles with number plates and other markings removed. Specialists consulted by the journalists identified parts of the equipment (uniform rifles) as currently used by Russian ground forces and paratroopers.
On 3 September 2014 Ukrainian President Poroshenko said he had reached a "permanent ceasefire" agreement with Russian President Putin. Russia denied the ceasefire agreement took place denying being party to the conflict at all adding that "they only discussed how to settle the conflict". Poroshenko then backtracked from his previous statement about the agreement.
Also on 3 September the OSCE for the first time reported "light and heavy calibre shootings from the east and south-east areas which are also bordering Ukraine". The report also stated that the OSCE Observer Teams had seen an increase of military-style dressed men crossing the border in both directions including ones with LPR and Novorossiya symbols and flags and wounded being transported back to Russia.
Lindsey Hilsum wrote in the Channel 4 news blog that in early September Ukrainian troops at Dmytrivka came under attack from BM-30 Smerch rockets from Russia. On 4 September she wrote of rumours that Ukrainian troops who had been shelling Luhansk for weeks were retreating west and that Russian soldiers with heavy armour were reported to have come over the border to back up the rebels.
Journalist Tim Judah wrote in the NYR blog about the scale of the devastation suffered by Ukrainian forces in southeastern Ukraine over the last week of August 2014 that it amounted "to a catastrophic defeat and will long be remembered by embittered Ukrainians as among the darkest days of their history." The scale of the destruction achieved in several ambushes revealed "that those attacking the pro-government forces were highly professional and using very powerful weapons." The fighting in Ilovaysk had begun on 7 August when units from three Ukrainian volunteer militias and the police attempted to take it back from rebel control. Then on 28 August the rebels were able to launch a major offensive with help from elsewhere including Donetsk—though "not Russia " according to Commander Givi the head of rebel forces there. By 1 September it was all over and the Ukrainians had been decisively defeated. Commander Givi said the ambushed forces were militias not regular soldiers whose numbers had been boosted 'by foreigners including Czechs Hungarians and "niggers." '
Mick Krever wrote on the CNN blog that on 5 September Russia's Permanent Representative to the OSCE Andrey Kelin had said it was natural pro-Russian separatists "are going to liberate" Mariupol. Ukrainian forces stated that Russian intelligence groups had been spotted in the area. Kelin said 'there might be volunteers over there.' On 4 September 2014 NATO officer said there were several thousand regular Russian forces operating in Ukraine. Lindsey Hilsum reported on the Channel 4 news blog about the total destruction of Luhansk International Airport which was being used as a base by the Ukrainian forces to shell Luhansk probably because the Russians decided to 'turn the tide' - the terminal building and everything around was utterly destroyed. Forces from Azerbaijan Belarus and Tajikistan who were fighting on the side of the rebels allowed themselves to be filmed.
On 12 September 2014 The Guardian saw a Russian armoured personnel carrier in Lutuhyne. The next day it was reported that Moscow had sent a convoy of trucks delivering "aid" into Ukraine without Kyiv's consent. This convoy was not inspected by Ukraine or accompanied by the ICRC. Top Ukrainian leaders largely remained silent about the convoys after the ceasefire deal was reached. The "aid" was part of the 12-point Minsk agreement.
The speaker of Russia's upper house of parliament and Russian state television channels acknowledged that Russian soldiers entered Ukraine but referred to them as "volunteers". A reporter for Novaya Gazeta an opposition newspaper in Russia stated that the Russian military leadership paid soldiers to resign their commissions and fight in Ukraine in the early summer of 2014 and then began ordering soldiers into Ukraine. This reporter mentioned knowledge of at least one case when soldiers who refused were threatened with prosecution. Russian opposition MP Lev Shlosberg made similar statements although he said combatants from his country are "regular Russian troops" disguised as units of the DPR and LPR.
In December Ukrainian hackers published a large cache of documents coming allegedly from a hacked server of Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MID). The documents originated from various departments coordinated by MID such as local police road police emergency services etc. The cache included documents describing Russian military casualties arriving on 25 August to hospitals in the Rostov area after a battle "10 km northwest of the small village of Prognoi" which matched a battle in Krasnaya Talovka reported on the same date by Ukrainian side.
In early September 2014 Russian state-owned television channels reported on the funerals of Russian soldiers who died in Ukraine during the war in Donbas but described them as "volunteers" fighting for the "Russian world". Valentina Matviyenko a top politician in the ruling United Russia party also praised "volunteers" fighting in "our fraternal nation" referring to Ukraine. Russian state television for the first time showed the funeral of a soldier killed fighting in east Ukraine. State-controlled TV station Channel One showed the burial of paratrooper Anatoly Travkin in the central Russian city of Kostroma. The broadcaster said Travkin had not told his wife or commanders about his decision to fight alongside pro-Russia rebels battling government forces. "Officially he just went on leave " the news reader said.
After a series of military defeats and setbacks for the Donetsk and Lugansk separatists who united under the banner of "Novorossiya" a term Russian President Vladimir Putin used to describe southeastern Ukraine Russia dispatched what it called a "humanitarian convoy" of trucks across the Russo-Ukrainian border in mid-August 2014. Ukraine reacted to the move by calling it a "direct invasion". Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council published a report on the number and contents of these convoys claiming they were arriving almost daily in November (up to 9 convoys on 30 November) and their contents were mainly arms and ammunition. In total in November there were 1 903 trucks crossing the border from Russia to Donbas 20 buses with soldiers or volunteers 402 armoured personnel carriers 256 tanks 138 "Grad" launchers 42 cannons and howitzers 35 self-propelled artillery vehicles 5 "Buk" launchers 4 "Uragan" launchers 4 "Buratino" flamethrowers 6 pontoon bridge trucks 5 "Taran" radio interception systems 5 armoured recovery vehicles 3 radiolocation systems 2 truck cranes 1 track layer vehicle 1 radiolocation station unknown number of "Rtut-BM" electronic warfare systems 242 fuel tankers and 205 light off-road vehicles and vans.
About the same time multiple reports indicated separatist militias were receiving reinforcements that allowed them to turn the tables on government forces. Armoured columns coming from Russia also pushed into southern Donetsk Oblast and reportedly captured the town of Novoazovsk clashing with Ukrainian forces and opening a new front in the Donbas conflict.
Russian officials denied reports that Russian military units were operating in Ukraine (see war in Donbas) claiming instead they had been sent on routine drills close to the border with Ukraine and crossed the border by mistake. On 28 August 2014 Dutch Brigadier-General Nico Tak head of NATO's crisis management center said that "over 1 000 Russian troops are now operating inside Ukraine".
On 5 September Sergey Krivenko a member of Russian President's Council for Civil Society and Human Rights commented on the growing number of Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine saying that "the situation now is very strange something unusual is going on; it could be described as massive dying of soldiers which is not typical for a time of peace; people from different military units are killed as a result of shots from loss of blood all these reasons are documented; and the military command explains that it happened during training or provides no explanation at all".
November 2014 escalation
On 7 November NATO officials confirmed the continued invasion of Ukraine with 32 Russian tanks 16 howitzer cannons and 30 trucks of troops entering the country. On 12 November NATO reiterated the prevalence of Russian troops; US general Philip Breedlove said "Russian tanks Russian artillery Russian air defence systems and Russian combat troops" were sighted. The Lithuanian Mission to the United Nations denounced Russia's 'undeclared war' on Ukraine. Journalist Menahem Kahana took a picture showing a 1RL232 "Leopard" battlefield surveillance radar system in Torez east of Donetsk; and Dutch freelance journalist Stefan Huijboom took pictures which showed the 1RL232 traveling with the 1RL239 "Lynx" radar system.
Burnt-out remains of tanks and vehicles left after battles appeared to provide further evidence of Russian involvement.
The Associated Press reported 80 unmarked military vehicles on the move in rebel-controlled areas. Three separate columns were observed one near the main separatist stronghold of Donetsk and two outside the town of Snizhne. Several of the trucks were seen to be carrying troops.
OSCE monitors further observed vehicles apparently used to transport soldiers' dead bodies crossing the Russian-Ukrainian border – in one case a vehicle marked with Russia's military code for soldiers killed in action crossed from Russia into Ukraine on 11 November 2014 and later returned. On 23 January 2015 the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers warned about conscripts being sent to east Ukraine. NATO said it had seen an increase in Russian tanks artillery pieces and other heavy military equipment in eastern Ukraine and renewed its call for Moscow to withdraw its forces.
The Center for Eurasian Strategic Intelligence estimated based on "official statements and interrogation records of captured military men from these units satellite surveillance data" as well as verified announcements from relatives and profiles in social networks that over 30 Russian military units were taking part in the conflict in Ukraine. In total over 8 000 soldiers had fought there at different moments. The Chicago Council on Global Affairs stated that the Russian separatists enjoyed technical advantages over the Ukrainian army since the large inflow of advanced military systems in mid-2014: effective anti-aircraft weapons ("Buk" MANPADS) suppressed Ukrainian air strikes Russian drones provided intelligence and Russian secure communications system thwarted the Ukrainian side from communications intelligence. The Russian side also frequently employed electronic warfare systems that Ukraine lacked. Similar conclusions about the technical advantage of the Russian separatists were voiced by the Conflict Studies Research Centre.
In November 2014 Igor Girkin gave a long interview to the extreme right-wing nationalist newspaper Zavtra ("Tomorrow") where for the first time he released details about the beginning of the conflict in Donbas. According to Girkin he was the one who "pulled the trigger of war" and it was necessary because acquisition of Crimea alone by Russia "did not make sense" and Crimea as part of the Novorossiya "would make the jewel in the crown of the Russian Empire". Girkin had been directed to Donbas by Sergey Aksyonov and he entered Ukraine with a group of 52 officers in April initially taking Slavyansk Kramatorsk and then other cities. Girkin also talked about the situation in August when separatist forces were close to defeat and only a prompt intervention of Russian "leavers" (ironic term for "soldiers on leave") saved them. Their forces took command in the siege of Mariupol as well. In response to internal criticism of the Russian government's policy of not officially recognizing Russian soldiers in Ukraine as fulfilling military service and leaving their families without any source of income if they are killed president Vladimir Putin signed a new law in October entitling their families to a monthly compensation. Two new entitlement categories were added: "missing in action" and "declared dead" (as of 1 January 2016).
Alexandr Negrebetskih a deputy from the Russian city of Zlatoust who fought as a volunteer on the side of separatists complained in an interview that "the locals run to Russia and we have to come here as they are reluctant to defend their land" which resulted in his detachment being composed of 90% Russians and only 10% locals from Donetsk.
In November Lev Shlosberg published a response from a military attorney's office to questions he asked about the status of Pskov paratroopers killed in Ukraine in August. The office answered that the soldiers died while "fulfilling military service outside of their permanent dislocation units" (Pskov) but any further information on their orders or location of death was withheld as "classified". A political expert Alexey Makarkin compared these answers to those provided by Soviet ministry of defence during the Soviet–Afghan War when the USSR attempted to hide the scale of their casualties at any cost.
Numerous reports of Russian troops and warfare on Ukrainian territory were raised in United Nations Security Council meetings. In 12 November meeting the representative of the United Kingdom also accused Russia of intentionally constraining OSCE observatory missions' capabilities pointing out that the observers were allowed to monitor only two kilometers of border between Ukraine and Russia and drones deployed to extend their capabilities were being jammed or shot down.
In November Armament Research Services published a detailed report on arms used by both sides of the conflict documenting a number of "flag items". Among vehicles they documented the presence of T-72B Model 1989 and T-72B3 tanks armoured vehicles of models BTR-82AM MT-LB 6MA MT-LBVM and MT-LBVMK and an Orlan-10 drone and 1RL239 radar vehicle. Among the ammunition they documented 9K38 Igla (date of manufacture 2014) ASVK rifle (2012) RPG-18 rocket launchers (2011) 95Ya6 rocket boosters (2009) MRO-A (2008) 9M133 Kornet anti-tank weapons (2007) PPZR Grom (2007) MON-50 (2002) RPO-A (2002) PKP (2001) OG-7 (2001) and VSS rifles (1987). These weapons mostly manufactured in Russia were used by pro-Russian separatists in the conflict zone but never "were in the Ukrainian government inventory prior to the outbreak of hostilities". The report also noted the use of PPZR Grom MANPADs produced in Poland and never exported to Ukraine. They were however exported to Georgia in 2007 and subsequently captured by the Russian army during the Russian-Georgian War 2008. Also in November Pantsir-S1 units were observed in separatist-controlled areas near Novoazovsk which were never part of the UAF's inventory. Bellingcat maintains a dedicated database of geolocated images of military vehicles specific to each side of the conflict mostly focused on Russian military equipment found on Ukrainian territory.
In January Donetsk Lugansk and Mariupol were the three cities that represented the three fronts on which Ukraine was pressed by forces allegedly armed trained and backed by Russia.
In early January 2015 an image of a BPM-97 apparently inside Ukraine in Luhansk provided further evidence of Russian military vehicles inside Ukraine.
Poroshenko spoke of a dangerous escalation on 21 January amid reports of more than 2 000 additional Russian troops crossing the border together with 200 tanks and armed personnel carriers. He abbreviated his visit to the World Economic Forum in Davos because of his concerns at the worsening situation. On 29 January the chief of Ukraine's General Military Staff Viktor Muzhenko said 'the Ukrainian army is not engaged in combat operations against Russian regular units ' but that he had information about Russian civilian and military individuals fighting alongside 'illegal armed groups in combat activities.' Reporting from DPR-controlled areas on 28 January the OSCE observed on the outskirts of Khartsyzk east of Donetsk "a column of five T-72 tanks facing east and immediately after another column of four T-72 tanks moving east on the same road which was accompanied by four unmarked military trucks type URAL. All vehicles and tanks were unmarked." It reported on an intensified movement of unmarked military trucks covered with canvas. After the shelling of residential areas in Mariupol NATO's Jens Stoltenberg said: "Russian troops in eastern Ukraine are supporting these offensive operations with command and control systems air defence systems with advanced surface-to-air missiles unmanned aerial systems advanced multiple rocket launcher systems and electronic warfare systems."'
Svetlana Davydova a mother of seven was accused of treason for calling the Ukrainian embassy about Russian troop movements and arrested on 27 January 2015. She was held at the high-security Lefortovo jail in Moscow until her release on 3 February with charges against her still pending. The Russian General Staff said details of the case constituted a "state secret." On 9 February 2015 a group of twenty contract soldiers from Murmansk raised an official complaint to the Russian ministry of defence when they were told they would "go to the Rostov area and possibly cross the Ukrainian border to fulfill their patriotic duty". The soldiers notified human rights activists and requested the orders in written form which they were not given. On 13 February a young soldier Ilya Kudryavtsev was found dead after calling home and informing his relatives that he was to be sent on a mission to Rostov-on-Don which is the usual starting point to Ukraine. Although he was severely beaten his death was officially classified as a suicide.
According to a top U.S. general in January Russian supplied drones and electronic jamming have ensured Ukrainian troops struggle to counter artillery fire by pro-Russian militants. "The rebels have Russian-provided UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) that are giving the rebels the detection capability and the ability to target Ukrainian forces". Advanced electronic jamming was also reported by OSCE observers on numerous occasions.
In February both Ukrainian and DNR sides reported unknown sabotage groups firing at both sides of the conflict and also on residential areas calling them a "third force". SBU published an intercepted call in which DNR commanders reported such a group had been arrested with Russian passports and military documents. DNR confirmed that such groups were indeed stopped and "destroyed" but called them "Ukrainian sabotage groups working to discredit the armed forces of the Russian Federation".
US Army commander in Europe Ben Hodges stated in February 2015 that "it's very obvious from the amount of ammunition type of equipment there's direct Russian military intervention in the Debaltseve area".
According to estimates by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in February Russian separatists forces number around 36 000 troops (as compared to 34 000 Ukrainian) of which 8 500-10 000 are purely Russian soldiers. Additionally around 1 000 GRU troops are operating in the area. According to a military expert Ilya Kramnik total Ukrainian forces outnumber the Russian forces by a factor of two (20 000 Russian separatists vs. 40 000 fighting for Ukraine).
In February 2015 the leading inde
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