Russia Is Opening Another Front Against Ukraine

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Photo: Alexander Khudoteply/AFP/Getty Images

Just a day after a private meeting with Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, Russian leader Vladimir Putin has opened up a new front on his country's border with Ukraine. So much for no war.

In what some are calling a "stealth invasion," Russian forces crossed into the border town of Novoazovsk and attacked the Ukrainian military there. There had not previously been reports of border crossings in this region, and, according to the New York Times, the attack caused the Ukrainian military to take a major step back.

Ukrainian officials say 13 soldiers died in the fight, but that Ukraine still controls the city. But according to the Times, some soldiers were "in a full, chaotic retreat."

Novoazovsk lies on Ukraine's border with Russia along the Sea of Azov, and is on the way to Mariupol — the sea port that has been the scene of a lot of fighting in recent days — and a way to get to Crimea. The AP's Peter Leonard explained the significance of the sea:

The new southeastern front also raised fears the separatists are seeking to create a land link between Russia and Crimea. If successful, it could give them or Russia control over the entire Sea of Azov and the gas and mineral riches that energy experts believe it contains. Ukraine already lost roughly half its coastline, several major ports and significant Black Sea mineral rights in March when Russia annexed Crimea.

All of this comes just a day after leaders of the two countries met in Belarus, in a meeting Putin described as "positive" to reporters.

At the same time, confusion over what exactly is happening between the two countries is reaching a new high. While Russia continues to downplay its involvement, a group representing mothers of service members claims it has compiled a list of 400 Russian soldiers killed or wounded in Ukraine. Russian-language news site Vedomosti (funded by Western sources, including Dow Jones) published a staff editorial bluntly asking, "Are we at war?"

Each day, it looks more and more like the answer is "yes."