The little green men are back

The U.S. State Department has released a dozen of pictures of gunmen in eastern Ukraine wearing uniforms similar to Russian soldiers and brandishing Russian weapons.

 

 It is assumed they are Russian forces, while the Kremlin keeps on stating that no troops have crossed the border with Ukraine. The “Crimean scenario” could be reproduced in eastern Ukraine.

The photos released by the U.S. State Department – which come from different sources, collected by local representatives of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and taken from the Internet – show a select group of militants photographed during earlier pro-Russian operations, and again during operations in Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, in eastern Ukraine. There is no way to surely say if the pictures are genuine, and it is clear that the U.S. State Department move (which comes on the heels of a diplomatic agreement in Geneva, calling for the disarming of all illegal groups in eastern Ukraine in return for amnesty for all but capital crimes) has evident diplomatic and propaganda purposes. The hard-won deal reached in Geneva between Russia, the U.S., Ukraine and European Union, aimed to de-escalate the crisis, seems so far impracticable, as militants in the eastern cities of Donetsk and Slavyansk appear deep-rooted and there is no indication that are about to back down.

The little green men

"There has been broad unity in the international community about the connection between Russia and some of the armed militants in eastern Ukraine, and the photos presented by the Ukrainians last week only further confirm this, which is why U.S. officials have continued to make that case," said the State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, to the New York Times .

The photos show "citizens" in Crimea and the city of Slovyansk who are dressed the same and carrying the same kind of RPG-26 rocket launchers that are issued to Russian troops. In one set, a bearded man in a military cap is showed in one image claimed to be taken in Georgia in 2008, and two others taken in Kramatorsk and Sloviansk in the past days. The man, who appears to actually be the same one, is labeled as a "soldier of the Russian Special Forces". Other pictures show another militant in eastern Ukraine and in a "family photo" of a Russian forces group.

Only recently President Vladimir Putin firmly denied any involvement of Russian troops in eastern Ukraine. “This is nonsense, there are no Russian troops in the east of Ukraine. All the people that are in the eastern Ukraine are local residents, and the main proof is that they've taken their masks off - literally. It's their home, and they have nowhere to leave to” President Putin replied to a question during annual question and answer session "Direct Line with Vladimir Putin," broadcast live by the Rossiya 1 and other main Russian media.

The Crimean scenario

As it is happening now in eastern Ukraine, the kremlin’s line has always been meant to deny any use of troops on the Ukrainian territory. The mysterious self-defense army, that popped up around airports and other facilities in Crimea on the eve of the referendum for the peninsula’s independence, was formed by soldiers without insignia claimed to be volunteers. What made the situation quite odd, was that they were driving Lince armored vehicles (recently delivered by Italian Iveco to the Russian army) with Russian army number plates and were equipped with NSV heavy machine guns and RGD-5 grenades. People started calling those men wearing Russian navy uniforms, behaving like well-trained professional soldiers and equipped with heavy gun machines “little green men”, with a bitter sense of humor. But nobody believed that they were coming from Mars. Then, a few days ago, Mr Putin said he would award medals to Russian troops who served during the annexation of Crimea. Seems he admitted for the first time that the country's military had been involved in events on the Black Sea peninsula. We are yet to see whether the Crimean precedent will remain an isolated case, or a model that could be reproduced in eastern Ukraine.

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