The fog of war is notorious for obscuring our view of military operations, but it must be rare in the annals of human conflict for a nuclear-armed superpower to attempt to invade a large European country without anyone apparently noticing.
But that's apparently what happened on the night of July 12-13, if the Ukrainian authorities are to be believed (and they are generally a rather more reliable source than their counterparts in Moscow.)
According to Kyiv, a large column of Russian armor (estimates ranging from 100 to 200 vehicles) was halted by Ukrainian air strikes as it attempted to cross from Russia into Ukraine's Luhansk oblast, the southern portion of which is still under the control of the Russian-led insurgent forces. The Ukrainian authorities say part of the column was destroyed, and the rest abandoned its attempt to enter Ukraine. Moreover, the Ukrainian armed forces said that this column was just one of several Russian attack groups that were moving on Ukraine, openly, under the Russian flag. It added that Ukrainian forces were attacked from Russian territory by artillery and Grad multiple rocket launchers. The Russian actions were deemed by the Ukrainian military as a military invasion of the territory of Ukraine.
Yet there has been not a peep about this dramatic escalation of the war in Ukraine in the Western media, probably because of the difficulty of independently verifying such reports, given the complex, confused, and frankly dangerous situation in eastern Ukraine.
Nevertheless, there had been warning signs for a number of days prior to this incident that the Russians might be planning an invasion.
British-Ukrainian journalist Askold Krushelnysky reported on July 9 in an article entitled "A Dreadful Inexorability" in the National Review Online that "serious sources" in the Russian government had informed him that Russian President Vladimir Putin was planning a peacekeeping intervention in Ukraine in "the next few days." We might have witnessed (or rather failed to witness) precisely that over the weekend, though luckily the attempt appears to have been thwarted by Ukraine's military. Krushelnysky also claimed that senior Russian diplomats had informed the German government that Russia would press on with its plans to intervene in Ukraine even if the EU did finally decide to impose its third wave of sanctions. In addition, Krushelnysky said Russian military vehicles with peacekeeping markings have been stationed close to Russia's border with Ukraine, and that MPs from Russia's lower house of parliament, the Duma, have been ordered to stay in the vicinity of Moscow.
These claims have been backed up by Dmitry Tymchuk, of the Information Resistance group in Ukraine, who has connections with the Ukrainian military and who had proved to be a reasonably reliable source in the past. Tymchuk, in a posting made on the morning of July 14, said that Ukraine was effectively being invaded by Russia. He also warned that he had it from several sources that Russian special forces were planning to insert themselves in the insurgency zone in Ukraine on July 15, although the Ukrainian defense authorities said they had no information confirming this.
Together with the multiple reports of Russian armored columns with peacekeeping markings, and the recent well-documented incidents of Russian tanks, APCs and artillery pieces being allowed through the border by Russia into the insurgency zone in Ukraine, this appears to be the continuation of Putin's "frog-in-a-pot" strategy of gradually turning up the heat on the hapless and unwary frog (Ukraine), until it is cooked (invaded, dismembered).
And over the weekend we may have seen Putin give another tweak to the burner – Russia claimed that Ukraine had shelled a town across the border in Russia itself, killing a man and seriously injuring two women. Ukraine denied being responsible, and claimed that the Russian-led insurgents had engineered the incident themselves to provide justification for Russia to stage an open invasion.
Given the covert nature of Russia's military operations against Ukraine, and the previously mentioned difficulty of establishing the truth or falsehood of claimed incidents in the war zone, it's impossible to say for certain who was responsible for shelling Russian territory. But as Ukrainian forces close in on the insurgents' strongholds of Luhansk and Donetsk, it's highly probable that we will hear of more such incidents - any of which, the Ukrainian authorities worry, could be used by Moscow as the pretext for an open invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
It's to be hoped that in the future, with the benefit of hindsight, Ukraine and the rest of the world will not ruefully have to admit that "all the signs were there – we should have seen it coming, but we didn't notice."