News from the front: Pro-Russian rebels plan spring offensive, conduct summary executions

Offensive operations in Ukraine from Moscow-backed pro-Russian rebel groups have largely stalled over the winter months, but that de facto ceasefire is about to end.

Upon returning from a fact-finding mission in Ukraine last week, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander and Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark issued a grim warning. “What is happening now is preparations for a renewed offensive from the east,” Clark cautioned. He noted that this new effort to carve off portions of Ukraine for the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic would likely commence after Orthodox Easter on April 12 and before Russia celebrates the 70th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s victory over the Nazis on May 8.

Given that an attack is “imminent,” Clark said the Obama administration should take two specific actions to bolster Ukrainian security forces:

• It should share intelligence with Ukraine so the Ukrainians can have “firm warning of a renewed Russian offensive”;

• And it could prepare an aid package, including lethal assistance that has already been authorized by Congress; deploy it at a staging base; have strategic lift available; and warn Russian President Vladimir Putin that “when we first get the indications that you are coming again we will send assistance, including lethal assistance, to Ukraine.”

Ahead of this expected offensive, Amnesty International claims that summary executions are being conducted in the rebel-held regions of Ukraine. The claim stems from video evidence that shows Ukrainian soldiers exhibiting signs of beatings and torture prior to their reported execution.

“Amnesty International has also seen videos documenting the captivity, and pictures of the dead bodies, of at least three other members of the Ukrainian armed forces, reportedly being held in a morgue in Donetsk,” the report read. “There are signs of bullet wounds to their heads and upper parts of their bodies, apparently the result of execution-style killings.”

“The new evidence of these summary killings confirms what we have suspected for a long time. The question now is: what are the separatist leaders going to do about it?” said Denis Krivosheev, Europe and Central Asia Deputy Director at Amnesty International.

“The torture, ill-treatment and killing of captured, surrendered or wounded soldiers are war crimes. These claims must be promptly, thoroughly and impartially investigated, and the perpetrators prosecuted in fair trials by recognized authorities.”

This week, NATO forces conducted the first drills of the newly assembled rapid response force that is tasked with responding to Russian aggression directed against members of the Atlantic Alliance.

Some 150 soldiers from the Czech army’s 43rd airborne battalion have been training to be ready for deployment within 48 hours “as NATO reevaluates the risks,” Maj. Gen. Jiri Baloun said Thursday. The previous NATO standard times for that were between 10 and 80 days, Baloun said.

In the Netherlands, 900 German and 200 Dutch soldiers have been doing the same. The units will be moved for further trials to Poland in June while some 25,000 NATO troops will complete the exercise of the new force in Italy, Portugal and Spain in October and November.

The units belong to NATO’s new Very High Readiness Joint Task Force.

Those units have a circumspect mission: Shore up confidence in NATO states bordering Europe that the West will come to their aid if attacked. As for Ukraine, the West has virtually given up on preventing that nation’s dismemberment. In his warning, Clark advised American officials and the President of the United States to immediately provide lethal aid to Kiev. He said that the demoralized Ukrainian forces would receive that aid as they would a “shot of adrenalin.” But while the president contends that he is still weighing his options in Ukraine, his 14 months of inaction indicate that he made his decision as to what to do about the war in Europe long ago.