If Putin needed a pretext to finally drive across the Ukraine border, he got it today following first the death of nearly 40 pro-Russian protesters in Odessa during a confrontation between pro-Russia and pro-Kiev forces, and then, what appears to be a storming in progress right now by the Ukraine national guard of yet another separatist-controlled city in east Ukraine: Kramatorsk.
According to RT, Ukraine’s National Guard is storming the eastern town of Kramatorsk even as it has also resumed its special operation in Slavyansk, where two soldiers have been killed.
“The assault is starting now,” a Kramatorsk self-defense activist has told RIA Novosti by phone. Another activist told the news agency that the National Guard opened fire on self-defense forces.
Dozens have been killed or injured in Kramatorsk, a doctor told RIA Novosti. The medic added that the fighting has now stopped and all of those injured have been taken to hospitals in Kramatorsk and Slavyansk. At least two died on the way to the hospital, she said.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian military’s special operation has resumed in the nearby town of Slavyansk. The headquarters of the people’s self-defense is under snipers’ fire, according to Itar-Tass. There are reports of injuries among protesters.
Recall that Putin has made it very clear that all the Kremlin needs to green light an operation in Ukraine is a pretext of "self-defense" for the pro-Russian citizens currently there being attacked by the local military, something which if the tables were turned, would have been classified as a civil war by the impartial western media.
So what does the theater of operations look like should Russia finally get involved?
The Washington Post is publishing a new map that shows,using information from the Royal United Services Institute, recent troop movements in the region. The graphic illustrates how military exercises conducted by Russia have left a big build-up of troops on Ukraine's border. It also shows Ukraine's own military moves to its borders with Russia and Moldova's Russian-dominated enclave, Transnistria.
Fighting and street battles are raging in Kramatorsk, as the Kiev regime continues its assault on the city. There are reports of residents killed, with overnight attacks having claimed at least ten lives, self-defense say.
"Last night 10 people on our side died, they were all unarmed civilians,” the leader, who wouldn’t disclose his identity, told RIA Novosti.
He added that 30 people were wounded after the Ukrainian army opened fire.
Fighting in Kramatorsk continued into Saturday, with the Ukrainian security forces moving forward despite resistance from self-defense squads.
Via Facebook, Interim Interior Minister Arsen Avakov asked local residents to stay indoors.
Earlier, he said that two checkpoints near Kramatorsk had been destroyed and the TV tower had been taken.
Snipers who are controlled by the Kiev government occupied multi-storey buildings and fire from there, an unnamed source in the Donbass self-defense HQ told Interfax news agency. He added that the fighting is going on on the city streets, with different kinds of weapons used.
The source also claims there are dead in the fighting, “most of them civilians who happened to be next to the location where the fighting is now on.”
The Ukrainian army’s assault on Kramatorsk started on Friday night. Earlier reports said that one self-defense activist was killed and nine were injured.
The storming of Kramatorsk is part of a wider military operation in eastern Ukraine, which intensified on Friday morning when Ukrainian troops attacked the anti-government stronghold of Slavyansk. The city was surrounded by the military with dozens of APCs and 20 helicopters engaged in the operation.
The fighting has reportedly resulted in three casualties. Two helicopter pilots have died, according to Ukrainian military officials, while self-defense forces in Slavyansk said that one of their members was killed.
Also on Friday, clashes in Odessa between supporters of the authorities in Kiev and anti-government protesters turned deadly and claimed the lives of 46 people. About 200 people were injured.
[RT gives us the view from Russia]
The West has cut all paths to a peaceful solution of the Ukrainian crisis by supporting the Kiev authorities and their violent crackdown on protests in the eastern part of the country, Russia’s envoy Vitaly Churkin told the UN Security Council.
Catastrophic consequences are inevitable if Kiev authorities do not stop their “criminal venture,” Churkin stressed at the emergency UNSC meeting summoned by Moscow on Friday.
He pointed out that Kiev has flagrantly violated its obligations that were established under the Geneva agreement on April 17. The "punitive measures" carried out by the government are evidence of Kiev’s inability and unwillingness to fulfill these obligations, he added.
“Particular concern is raised by data that, during the punitive operation of the Ukrainian military and illegal ultra-nationalist groups, English speech was heard on air, and among the assailants on Slavyansk, English speaking foreigners were seen,” the Russian UN envoy said.
In reference to the disturbing events in Odessa where at least 31 people have died after radicals set fire to the Trade Unions House, Churkin said that such “actions are reminiscent of the crimes of the Nazis from whom the Ukrainian ultra-nationalists derive their ideological inspiration.”
"We expect – we demand that the western advocates of the Ukrainian authorities, including US Secretary of State John Kerry, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, join Russia in unequivocally condemning this barbaric act," the Russian envoy said in a statement released by his office.
He stressed that Moscow “insists on avoiding any external interference in what is happening in Ukraine.”
“Kiev regime, encouraged by its Western sponsors, used massive use of military force, practically destroying the last hope for the viability of the Geneva agreement,” Churkin said.
The Russian envoy to the UN has urged Kiev and all sides who took part in the Geneva deal – the US and EU – to “refrain from making grave mistakes” and “soberly assess the full responsibility of the possible consequences of their actions."
“Supporting the organizers of the Kiev government coup and their military crackdown on protesters, the US and EU take great responsibility practically cutting all paths to resolve the crisis peacefully,” Churkin concluded.
Against this background, “Washington’s flat refusal” to support the proposal on organizing an OSCE-supported dialogue between Kiev and southeastern Ukraine looks “not coincidental,” Churkin said.
Kiev has intensified its military operation in eastern Ukraine, with the country's new authorities unleashing heavy weaponry on Slavyansk on Friday morning. Helicopters and APCs blockaded the city, preventing the evacuation of civilians. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has urged for the creation of humanitarian corridors.
In response, Russia summoned an emergency UNSC meeting aimed at ending the violence and bloodshed.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he is very concerned about the events in eastern Ukraine and urged all sides of the conflict to show “restraint.”
"The escalation of violence and reports of further casualties in Slavyansk today is a vivid reminder of how dangerous the situation has become," Ban said in a statement, adding that he "calls on all parties to exercise maximum restraint and to express dissatisfaction peacefully to avoid further bloodshed."
In turn, Russia’s envoy called on the UN to publish a statement urging an end to all violence, including the use of military force in eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine's security service said in Kiev on Saturday illegal military groups from Moldova's breakaway region of Transdniestria and Russian groups worked together to foment unrest in the southern port city of Odessa.
"The unrest, which occurred on May 2 in Odessa and led to clashes and many casualties, was due to foreign interference," a spokeswoman for the SBU security service told a news conference.
She said former top officials, once part of ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich's inner circle, had financed "saboteurs" to foment the unrest, blaming Serhiy Arbuzov and Oleksander Klymenko, who were now "hiding in a neighboring country".
On the ongoing Ukrainian military operation in the east the deputy chief of the SBU, Vasyl Krutov said the army were in control of parts of Slaviansk where separatists had been holding OSCE representatives who were released on Saturday.
But he said the operation was very complex.
"Today we are in total control of the internal radius of this city (Slaviansk) where 14 checkpoints have been set up, controlled by the forces of the anti-terrorist operation," Krutov said.
Ukrainian troops launched a dawn raid to try to retake the rebel stronghold of Slovyansk on Friday, surrounding the eastern town and sending in military helicopters, one of which was shot down by pro-Russian rebels, killing two servicemen.
Accusing the pro-Moscow separatists of using mercenaries, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said the offensive was answered with heavy artillery, with the rebels using grenade and portable anti-aircraft missile launchers to bring down the plane.