Escalation In Ukraine

The Ukrainian military has launched its first offensive against pro-Russian separatists, conducting operations around the eastern city of Slavyansk:

The Ukrainian Defence Ministry said two Mi-24 attack helicopters had been shot down by shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles while on patrol overnight around Slaviansk. Two airmen were killed and others wounded. Other Ukrainian officials and the separatist leader in Slaviansk said earlier that one airman was taken prisoner. A third helicopter, an Mi-8 transport aircraft, was also hit and a serviceman wounded, the Defence Ministry said. The SBU security service said this helicopter was carrying medics. …

The SBU said the deadly use by the separatists of shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles was evidence that “trained, highly qualified foreign military specialists” were operating in the area “and not local civilians, as the Russian government says, armed only with guns taken from hunting stores”. Ukrainian officials said their troops overran rebel checkpoints and Slaviansk was now “tightly encircled”.

Kevin Rothrock thinks through what might happen next:

Irregular militia marching on Slaviansk and other southeastern cities in Ukraine could present Kiev with a tricky legal situation. Though Moscow exercises de facto control over Crimea, the national government refuses to recognize Russia’s annexation, complicating Kiev’s classification of any combatants marching into the Ukrainian mainland from Crimea, which formally remains a part of Ukraine. Would these soldiers be Russian troops? Or are they more Ukrainian “terrorists,” as Kiev now identifies combatants throughout the southeast?

In other words, the Kremlin might project its power into Ukraine’s mainland by encouraging, and perhaps arming, Crimean militia, who in turn would advance on Slaviansk. In theory, Moscow might succeed, if only semantically, in “laundering” an armed intervention in this way.

Meanwhile, as the following video, photos, and tweets illustrate, clashes have erupted in the city of Odessa, with at least seven 38 people reported dead and many more injured: