Maybe it was sleep deprivation after 16 hours of peace negotiations in Minsk on Wednesday and Thursday, or maybe he just doesn’t care anymore, but Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to have implicitly admitted that Russia has been supplying arms, and almost certainly soldiers, to the separatists fighting in Ukraine.
Putin spent the a marathon negotiating session in Minsk with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Francois Hollande trying to hammer out a peace agreement that would end fighting in eastern Ukraine.
The separatist uprising began after Russian troops invaded Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula last spring, and separatist fighters have gained significant ground since then. They have done so with the support of heavy weaponry, tanks, and advanced equipment that they clearly did not possess prior to the uprising, and had no means of producing on their own.
Russia, however, has adamantly denied that it has supplied either troops or manpower to the assist in the fighting. When the personal belongings of Russia soldiers were produced, including passports and military ID cards found on soldiers captured or killed in Ukraine, the Kremlin’s response has been to claim that the men were adventurers “on vacation” in Ukraine.
However, the document that Putin helped negotiate tells a different story.
The text of the ceasefire agreement specifies, among other things, that forces on both sides need to move their heavy weapons back from the front, with explicit instructions about the required distance different weapons must be drawn back. Among the weapons systems named is the MLRS Tornado-S, a multiple launch rocket system that, as it turns out, could only have come from one place.
“The 9A52-4 Tornado-S is an advanced Russian system, only deployed in 2012,” writes Mark Galeotti, Clinical Professor in Global Affairs at the New York University Center for Global Affairs. “It’s certainly not in private stocks, and Ukraine doesn’t have any. So the only way it could be involved in this war is because Russia has supplied them to the rebels—the ones they aren’t arming, remember?—or else in the hands of Russian troops.”
If there are Tornado systems in Ukraine, as the ceasefire documents suggest, it’s highly likely that they arrived with soldiers trained in how to use them – presumably Russian soldiers, since nobody other than the Russian army has the Tornado.
The presence of the Tornado in the ceasefire agreement, and its implications, appears to have been pointed out first by András Rácz and Sinikukka Saari, both senior research fellows at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs. In a paper released Friday morning, they wrote:
“Although probably accidentally, the document provided proof of direct Russian military involvement in the conflict. Among the heavy weapons to be withdrawn is the Tornado-S, which is explicitly mentioned. This high-tech, long- range multiple-launch rocket system (MLRS) entered into service in the Russian Federation in 2012, and is operated by no other state. Hence, if Tornados are to be withdrawn from the conflict zone, they could not have originated from anywhere but Russia.”
Whether the mention of the Tornado in the document was a slip, or simply a long overdue acknowledgment that Russia has been supplying men and arms to the separatists is now a much less important question that the more basic one: will the ceasefire hold?
Galeotti, for one, isn’t sanguine. “It would be lovely to think this was the first step towards a lasting peace, and not just the next act in Russia’s unfolding exercise in creative disruption. But I won’t be holding my breath.”
Top Reads from The Fiscal Times