PUBLISHED 12:51 AUGUST 10, 2016
UPDATED 12:51 AUGUST 10, 2016
By Dan Alexe
Contributing Editor, New Europe
Ukraine is claiming that a Russian invasion is possible “any minute”, amid reports that Moscow’s troops and armour were on the move in Crimea and a separatist leader in eastern Ukraine survived a bomb attack.
The warning from Kiev stoked fears of a return to all-out war in Ukraine, where the United Nations and monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) have noted an ominous recent surge in violence.
For more than two years, separatists with Russian military, financial and diplomatic support have run parts of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions in eastern Ukraine, amid a conflict that has killed almost 10,000 people and displaced two million.
A United Nations commission said last week that civilian casualties in eastern Ukraine were now at their highest level since last summer, due to a surge in artillery exchanges and other fighting over the last two months.
The OSCE monitors in the region have warned for several months that an escalation is taking place, as the sides take up positions inside a supposed “buffer zone” and engage at close quarters, while also using banned artillery from distance.
The rising violence has all but crushed lingering hopes for the so-called Minsk peace plan, most points of which have not been implemented by either side.
Tensions are reportedly high among residents of northern Crimea as long convoys of heavy Russian weaponry continue to be sighted not far from the occupied peninsula’s border with the Ukrainian mainland.
Crimean Tatar activists have reported armed checkpoints being erected at scattered sites around the peninsula, and unusually large concentrations of Russian hardware in northern regions.
The border crossing between Ukraine proper and the Russian-annexed peninsula had been shut for several hours on August 7, causing long backups of traffic.
The armistice is unraveling fast as fighting between Ukrainian government forces and Russia-backed separatists has escalated to levels not seen since more furious phases of the conflict in the Donbas — where the separatists hold parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions — in 2014 and 2015. Casualties, both civilian and military, are mounting.
The number of civilian casualties recorded by the United Nations nearly doubled in June to 69, including 12 deaths, and rose again in July, when eight civilians were killed and 65 wounded.