On Friday afternoon the Pentagon announced that Russian warplanes had violated Ukrainian airspace several times in the last 24 hours — the latest in a series of escalations between two nations that may be destined for war.
USA Today reported that Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren confirmed the breach of international law, adding that the U.S. government “call[ed] upon the Russians to take immediate steps to de-escalate the situation.”
Warren did not specify the exact number of violations, the type of military aircraft or the regions overflown by the Russians.
The move follows a sweeping operation by the Ukrainian military against Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. After a rocky start last week, Ukrainian forces managed to retake parts of the country captured by pro-Russian militants. Some, many allege, are Russian special forces operating undercover.
The Ukrainian military appears intent on expanding these operations, dropping leaflets across eastern Ukraine instructing peaceful citizens on “how to SURVIVE in the territories where Russian terrorists act.” The pamphlets warn people to stay away from pro-Russian forces or become a “potential victim.”
Five pro-Russian fighters were killed in the Ukrainian reconquest of the southeastern city of Slavyansk on Thursday, prompting an immediate threat from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“If the Kiev regime has started to use the army against the population inside the country, it, beyond any doubt, is a very serious crime,” he declared, warning of “consequences” and ordering massive military drills for the forty to fifty thousand Russian troops menacing Ukraine’s eastern border.
The illegal incursions appear to be another of Putin’s consequences. Michael O’Hanlon, a defense scholar at the DC-based Brookings Institution, told USA Today that the Ukrainian military has the capacity to take down jets that violate their airspace — at least in the opening stages of a conflict.
In fact, O’Hanlon believes the Russians may be deliberately goading the Ukrainians to attack their aircraft. “I don’t put a deliberate provocation, in order to create a pretext for response and invasion, past Putin at this point,” he said.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk — swept into power after mass protests in Kiev toppled pro-Russian strongman Viktor Yanukovych’s government in February — now believes Putin is intent on invading his nation. And, he warns, he may not stop there.
“Attempts at military conflict in Ukraine will lead to a military conflict in Europe,” he told his cabinet during a meeting broadcast live and translated by Reuters.
“The world has not yet forgotten World War II, but Russia already wants to start World War III,” the prime minister lamented.
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