Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 07.11.2018
More Western leaders, diplomats, and bureaucrats are visiting the battlefront in Donbas where the Russian Federation is invading Ukraine. Since the Armed Forces of Ukraine started to organize the defence of Europe’s eastern flank from Russian aggression as the Joint Forces Operation (JFO), the Ukrainians have gotten much better at presenting the truth of Putin’s War. On November 6, the Ambassador of Austria to Ukraine, Hermine Poppeller, went and saw for herself what is happening.
Ambassador Poppeller was received in Donbas by the commander of the JFO, Lt.-Gen. Serhiy Nayev. The Austrian ambassador wanted to hear about security and humanitarian conditions at the ‘contact line’ between the Russians and Ukrainians in Luhansk and Donetsk regions. General Nayev told Ambassador Poppeller that the Russian occupation forces continue to use heavy artillery that is prohibited for use under the terms of the Minsk Agreement of 11 February 2015. Since the JFO began in May 2018 (it was called the Anti-Terrorist Operation before), the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation have bombarded settlements in Ukraine 58 times. 5 civilians have been killed and 10 civilians have been injured in the past half year by the Russian Federation’s war against Ukraine.
There is unequivocal evidence that Russian troops are fighting in Donbas. General Nayev showed some of it to Ambassador Poppeller. The Austrian guests saw the a Russian Orlan-10 drone that was shot down by Ukrainian forces on October 12. Orlan-10 unmanned aerial vehicles are produced only at the Special Technological Centre of Saint Petersburg for the exclusive use of the Russian government. They reportedly cost between 87 thousand and 120 thousand dollars apiece. Ukrainian forces have shot down or destroyed five Orlan-10 drones since the JFO began. All were flying reconnaissance missions from Russian-occupied Ukraine into free Ukraine.
The humanitarian situation has badly deteriorated because of the unrestricted use by the invading Russians of anti-personnel mines and anti-vehicle landmines. Almost all civilian deaths and injuries due to mines occur in areas uncontrolled by Ukrainian forces. The Russian invader-occupiers refuse to allow demining by Ukrainian sappers or by international NGOs doing demining in Ukraine (The HALO Trust, the Danish Deming Group, and the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action). In the last month alone, five civilians died from Russian mines, three of them children. Another boy was seriously injured.
During her time in Donbas, Ambassador Poppeller also visited the headquarters of the Ukrainian side of the Joint Centre for Control and Coordination (JCCC). There no longer is a Russian side of the JCCC as they withdrew last year. The Ukrainian officers who follow-up on reports of criminal and terrorist activity in the area along the battlefront were able to report some success in reducing the violence from Russian “DRG” groups (sabotage and reconnaissance groups) that infiltrate into free Ukraine. The Ukrainian side of the JCCC also reported on restoration of civilian infrastructure damaged in the initial invasion of 2014.
In the past, Austria has been a “see no evil” accomplice to Russian aggression and a weak defender of Ukrainian sovereignty. Austrian political leaders have picked up on false Kremlin propaganda language of a “conflict in Ukraine.” Austria has never acknowledged the truth that the Russian Federation is invading Ukraine in Donbas. Austria has not said publicly that the territory uncontrolled by the Ukrainian government in parts of Luhansk and Donetsk regions is Russian-occupied, and is no different in status to Crimea, which belongs to Ukraine but is Russian-occupied.
Groundless fear of the Russian Federation and moral weakness in defending European values is unworthy of Austria. The visit of Austria’s Ambassador to Ukraine, Hermine Poppeller, might be a good sign. Having gone to the battlefront where the Russian Federation is invading Ukraine, the Austrian government might have the decency and honesty to say what is real and what is happening. Austria should finally talk about Putin’s War: the conflict in Ukraine is a war by the Russian Federation against Ukraine.