Need To Know
While the fighting between pro-Russian separatists and the Ukraine army in eastern Ukraine has slowed down since a ceasefire was signed in Minsk in February, the war has not. Ukraine has used the time to lobby the West to provide weapons and training. And Russia has used it to amass an arsenal of heavy weapons in areas it controls.
The whole thing could blow open any day.
Reuters reported Thursday that it witnessed Russia's army gathering mobile rocket launchers, tanks and artillery at a makeshift base near the Ukraine border. Russia has always denied that it is backing the separatists in eastern Ukraine. But few people outside of Russia believe that. The evidence to the contrary is pretty overwhelming at this point.
Bellingcat, for instance, is a British organization that has used geo-location on posts made by Russian servicemen on Facebook and Twitter to confirm their presence in cities throughout eastern Ukraine. It has also analyzed YouTube video to identify Russian tanks and other weaponry on the wrong side of the border. Using similar investigative strategies, the Atlantic Council — a research group based in Washington — released a report on Thursday that details Russian activity in Ukraine. The report is called, "Hiding in Plain Sight."
In its report, Reuters said that identifying marks on the military vehicles it saw had been removed and that Russian troops had removed insignia from their fatigues. That way, apparently, no one will know that they are the Russian army.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree that requires the peacetime deaths of Russian troops participating in “special operations” to remain secret. The movement of troops and weapons to the border, coupled with this decree, does not bode well for Ukrainians.
Want To Know
So what's to be done about it? The separatists control much of the southeastern border region at this point. And the assumption is that Russia is gearing up to keep pressing south in an effort to link Russia with the southern peninsula called Crimea, a vacationland that Russia took from Ukraine days after Ukrainians toppled their corrupt, pro-Russian leader in February 2014.
Former NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen told GlobalPost in an interview that he thinks Russia is simply trying to “keep the conflict alive” in order to keep Ukraine weak and prevent it from seeking integration with the European Union. Rasmussen added that Western countries should begin sending arms to the Ukrainian army immediately.
The US military supports that idea. It is already in the country training Ukrainian soldiers. Vice President Joe Biden said Wednesday that the US government was seriously considering sending weapons, and went on to accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of "brutal aggression."
Strange But True
Here is a disturbing trend: tourists have taken to stripping down naked and snapping what they apparently think are hilarious photos at Angkor Wat, the ancient temple revered by Cambodians. The whole thing is kind of obnoxious.
The Chinese (who are now world-famous for crass behavior as foreign tourists), the French, the Germans and the Americans are all guilty of participating in this movement. A few have even been arrested and deported.
But while no one wants to see these people naked, the real shame of it is this: many Cambodians — who have survived multiple foreign invasions and a brutally violent dictatorship (only to now deal with endemic official corruption) — save for years to make the journey to Angkor Wat. It is a seminal moment for many of them. And they'd likely rather not have that special moment marred by some recent college grad drinking their way through Southeast Asia.