As official Russian troops withdraw from border, Putin continues stealth invasion and occupation of Donetsk and Luhansk region by irregular forces

News and Opinion


(1) Anton Troianovski (Berlin) and Carol E. Lee (in Bénouville, France), “Mistrust Persists in Ukraine Meetings,” Wall Street Journal, June 6, 2014(updated 8:02 p.m. ET).

(2) Lukas I. Alpert, “Ukraine’s Tenuous Grip on Russian Border Slips Further; Kiev Abandons Eight Border Posts After Sustained Attacks,” Wall Street Journal, June 6, 2014 (7:16 a.m. ET).

(3) Arthur Bright, “Despite Russian drawdown from border, fighting continues in eastern Ukraine (+video),” Cristian Science Monitor, May 30, 2014.

“Russian fighters are among the separatist forces battling Ukraine’s poorly equipped military for control of eastern provinces. A pullback of Moscow’s troops could defuse tensions with the West.”

(4) Griff Witte and Michael Birnbaum (Donetsk), “Russian troop withdrawal brings no relief in eastern Ukraine,” Washington Post, May 30, 2014.


Vladimir Putin is a former KGB operative who, as Russia’s President, has embraced a new form of “stealth warfare”. In the Crimea, this invasion was launched by special operations forces bearing no official insignia (often referred to in the press as “little green men”). With impressive military precision, they seized key government buildings and police and Ukrainian army installations, handing them over to pro-Russian “separatists” whom they directed and controlled. As these events unfolded, President Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov loudly proclaimed that Russia had no intention of violating the territorial integrity of the Ukraine in the Crimea or anywhere else. Within a month, Russia had annexed the Crimea.

Subsequently, the same pattern was repeated in the eastern Ukraine, with variations which have evolved in accordance with changing circumstances. At Geveva, on April 17, Russia agreed in the statement produced by talks between the U.S., the EU, Russia, and the Ukraine, that the “separatists” who had seized government buildings with Kalishnakovs and other heavy weapons would lay down their arms and withdraw from the buildings they held. Russia made no effort to ensure that this would happen.

As the West imposed targeted sanctions against individuals and a few companies in Russia and the Ukraine and, significantly, also developed a realistic threat of imposing so-called “third stage” or sectoral sanctions against Russia if it invaded the eastern Ukraine or interfered with the May 25 presidential elections in the Ukraine, Putin told Angela Merkel that he was withdrawing troops from the border region, where some 40,000 to 50,000 troops were massed in combat-ready status for an invasion. Weeks passed without this withdrawal occurring. In recent days, however, these Russian troops have finally been withdrawing.

But meanwhile, the KGB operative who is the current presient of Russia continued the invasion of the Ukraine by surrepticious means. Recent reports detail the crossing into Ukraine of truckloads and truckloads of heavily armed irregular forces. Within the last several days, highly organized military forces have taken control of the government administration building in Donetsk from the motley group of pro-Russian activists who were holding it.

The top leaders of the “separatists” are Russian citizens with no local ties, who are reliably reported to be officials of Russian military and intelligence agencies. Chechens and fighters from other parts of Russia have been sent into the eastern Ukraine to bolster the military assault on the territorial integrity, sovereignty, and political independence of the Ukraine, now in the “Donbass” region.

It is clear that Putin”s and Russia”s invasion of the eastern Ukraine continues in an extremely vigorous manner, with determination not to allow Kiev’s Anti-Terrorist Operation aimed at restoring public order in the East to succeed.

A war is going on in the eastern Ukraine between the Russian special operations and irregular forces whuch have invaded the country and local separatists they have enlisted in their support, and the national government of the Ukraine based in Kiev.

After imposing limited targeted sanctions on a number of Russian individuals, the EU and the U.S. have now threatened Putin and Russia with sectoral sanctions if Russia does not ceadse its support for the “separatists” who are fighting Ukrainian forces attempting to restore public order, and stop the influx from Russia of irregular forces and weapons crossing the border.

At the same time, France has stated that it will proceed with the delivery to Ruusian of two Mistral-class warships, which could eventually be based in Sevastopol in the Crimea, which under international law remains Ukrainian territory under Russian occupation.

The isolation of President Putin was broken by Francois Hollande’s invitation to Putin to attend the D-Day ceremonies in Normandy on June 5-6. There was a certain logic to this invitation, as the West and the Soviet Union were allies in the war to defeat Nazi Germany.

Whether the subsequent invitation to Putin to visit Paris and David Cameron’s and Angela Merkel’s hastily scheduled private meetings with Putin, over President Barack Obama’s objections, reflected a sincere effort at persuasion, or signalled a collapse of allied unity, was far from clear, particularly in light of the French decision to deliver the warships to Russia.

One might have thought that if the West wanted to deliver a single message and threat to Vladimir Putin regarding the Ukraine, they could have found a better way to do it than in three separate private meetings. Obama refused such a meeting, although he had a 15-minute chat with Putin on the sidelines of a larger luncheon at the D-Day ceremonies on Friday.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.