FPI Timeline: Russian Aggression in Ukraine since the September 2014 Cease-Fire
This week, the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany will meet in Minsk to pursue a de-escalation of the war between Ukraine’s democratic government and the Russian-backed separatists that control key portions of the country’s eastern provinces. Employing heavy weapons and technology provided by the Kremlin, the separatists have continually violated the September 2014 cease-fire known as the Minsk Protocol. Since the cease-fire was signed, Russian-backed separatists have seized 500 square miles of Ukraine’s territory, including the Donetsk airport.
The invasion of Ukraine is only one facet of a Russian campaign to intimidate its neighbors and sow division within NATO. In recent months, Russia has kidnapped an Estonian intelligence officer on Estonian soil, warned Latvia of “unfortunate consequences” for its alleged mistreatment of ethnic Russians, forced Sweden to re-route a civilian airliner to prevent a collision with a Russian military jet, flown strategic bombers over the English Channel, and sent unannounced formations of military aircraft into European air space.
The timeline below traces the evolution of Putin’s campaign to subvert Ukrainian sovereignty. The Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) believes it will be of use to lawmakers and their staff as they seek to formulate a more effective American response to the ongoing aggression. For an overview of events in Ukraine leading up to the Minsk Protocol, please see FPI’s Fact Sheet: Timeline of Russian Aggression in Ukraine and the Western Response.
September 5, 2014: The Ukrainian government agrees to a cease-fire, known as the Minsk Protocol, after the success of an offensive by Russian-backed separatists. The Russian government was the principal architect of the agreement, to which Kyiv and the separatists consented.
September 20, 2014: Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists revise their two-week-old cease-fire, defining a minimum distance of nine miles from the front lines as a buffer zone free from artillery and heavy weapons. Hours after the agreement is reached, artillery fire breaks out between the two sides.
September 23, 2014: Reuters reports that Russia plans to expand its Black Sea Fleet by 80 warships by 2020, and that Russia intends to complete a second naval base in the region by 2016.
September 28, 2014: In the deadliest attack since the cease-fire, seven Ukrainian soldiers are killed in an attack by pro-Russian separatists near Donetsk airport. This violation marks the beginning of a fight for control of the airport that will last for nearly four months.
October 3, 2014: The Guardian reports that pro-Russian separatists are escalating their assault on Donetsk airport, despite fierce resistance from government forces. Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations claims that his country’s forces have been shelled about 800 times since the cease-fire, resulting in the deaths of about 40 servicemen and the wounding of 200 more.
October 16, 2014: Russian President Vladimir Putin issues a warning: “We are hoping that our partners will understand the imprudence of attempts to blackmail Russia, [and] remember what discord between large nuclear powers can do to strategic stability.”
November 3, 2014: Reuters reports: “NATO’s top military commander [U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove] said on Monday that recent incursions into European airspace by Russian fighters and long-range bombers included larger, more complex formations of aircraft flying more ‘provocative’ routes than usual.”
November 11, 2014: As fighting in Ukraine escalates, General Breedlove tells reporters: “The cease-fire is in name only at this point. The violence increases day by day.” Pentagon officials claim that Russia has amassed approximately 8,000 troops on the Ukraine border.
November 12, 2014: The New York Times reports: “A senior NATO official confirmed on Wednesday what Ukrainian military officials and monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have been saying for days now: Russian troops and military equipment are crossing the border into Ukraine, seemingly preparing for renewed military action, though what exactly remains unclear.”
November 20, 2014: The total number of civilians and combatants killed as a result of the fighting in eastern Ukraine rises to 4,300. U.N. human rights monitors estimate that 13 individuals are killed on a daily basis, up from the previous month’s estimate of 10 deaths per day.
November 21, 2014: The BBC reports, “Russia has more than 9,000 soldiers and 500 tanks, heavy artillery and armoured personnel carriers in eastern Ukraine, President Petro Poroshenko has said.”
November 28, 2014: A senior Russian official denies involvement in Ukraine while promising benefits to the families of fallen troops. “Russian soldiers are not taking part in military activities in the east of Ukraine but all those who have died will receive compensation,” says Deputy Defense Minister Nikolay Pankov.
December 1, 2014: Speaking in Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said, "We see a significant military buildup in and around Ukraine," including "large transfers of Russian advanced weapons, equipment and military personnel to violent separatists."
December 11, 2014: Congress passes legislation to increase sanctions against Russia and to authorize the Obama Administration “to make available defensive weapons, services and training to Ukraine”.
December 26, 2014: The New York Times reports that “Russia identified NATO as the nation’s No. 1 military threat and raised the possibility of a broader use of precision conventional weapons to deter foreign aggression under a new military doctrine signed by President Vladimir Putin.” This declaration comes on the same day that Russia successfully test-fires its RS-24 intercontinental ballistic missile.
January 13, 2015: Thirteen Ukrainians are killed when missiles hit a bus parked at a Ukrainian government checkpoint near Vonovakha, a town to the north of Mariupol. This tragedy marks a steady uptick in violence through January as pro-Russian militants increase attacks through eastern Ukraine.
January 14, 2015: Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) releases a statement urging the Obama administration to fully implement the Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014, saying, “Russian-supplied proxies in eastern Ukraine continue to cause havoc on the lives of innocent people in the region, as well as impede prospects for regional peace.”
January 15, 2015: In the midst of a months-long stalemate at the Donetsk airport, separatists intensify their efforts to oust Ukrainian forces. According to Reuters, “the complex, a battered wreck with its runways cratered by shell explosions, has not functioned as an airport since hostilities erupted last April but it remains an important symbol for both sides.”
January 22, 2015: Pro-Russian separatists seize control of the Donetsk airport, ending an almost four-month long siege.
January 23, 2015: Separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenko declares that “Attempts to talk about a cease-fire will no longer be undertaken by our side.”
January 24, 2015: Surface-to-surface missiles strike a residential area in government-held Mariupol, killing 30 civilians and wounding approximately one hundred. Two days later, OSCE monitors confirm that the missile strike originated from rebel-held territory. United Nations official Jeffrey Feltman states, “the entity which fired these rockets knowingly targeted a civilian population.”
January 30, 2015: Rebel forces surround the city of Debaltseve, which controls a key intersection on the road linking Donetsk and Luhansk, where tank and artillery fire is exchanged with Ukrainian forces. They are also reported to have overrun the neighboring town of Vuhlehirsk. Separtist envoys announce their departure from Minsk, the site of expected peace talks.
February 2, 2015: Alexander Zakharchenko, the leader of the Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine, announces plans “to raise up to 100,000 troops to fight in eastern Ukraine.”
February 3, 2015: The Soldiers’ Mothers of St. Petersburg, a pro-human rights nongovernmental organization, claims that Russian soldiers “are being commanded to sign contracts that enable them to be sent to Ukraine.” The Wall Street Journal states, “similar reports are also coming from a number of other regions.”
February 4, 2015: The Los Angeles Times reports that in the final three weeks of January alone, 224 civilians were killed as a result of artillery fire between pro-Kyiv and pro-Russian forces.
February 5, 2015: Reuters reports: “Concern is growing in NATO over Russia’s nuclear strategy and indications that Russian military planners may be lowering the threshold for using nuclear weapons in any conflict, alliance diplomats say.”
Regarding Russia’s ongoing role in supporting Ukrainian separatists, Secretary of State John Kerry says, “there’s no question about tanks flowing, rocket systems being transported, [and] convoys of goods carrying both people, weapons, and other instruments of battle.”
February 6, 2015: Army Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, the commander of U.S. Army Europe, tells the Wall Street Journal that the weapons Putin has provided to pro-Russian separatists include “some of the latest air-defense systems” and “some of the latest, most-effective… electronic-warfare systems.” He adds: “They are deploying capabilities way above and beyond anything that any militia or rebel organization could ever come up with.”
February 7, 2015: Artillery strikes by Russian-backed separatists intensify “on all fronts” as rebel forces appear to mass for an assault against the cities of Debaltseve and Mariupol, the former of which is key to control over Ukrainian rail infrastructure in the east.
NATO commander Gen. Philip Breedlove tells reporters the Kremlin has provided separatists with more than 1,000 combat vehicles. "We do see hundreds of Russian regulars in eastern Ukraine providing capabilities like air defense, electronic warfare support to artillery, [and] command and control,” Breedlove said.
February 9, 2015: President Obama and Chancellor Merkel hold a joint press conference in Washington after private consultations. Obama says he has not yet decided whether to send weapons to Kyiv. Chancellor Merkel reiterates her opposition to arming Ukraine. The same day, the European Union postpones new sanctions against Russian officials and companies.
February 10, 2015: Local officials report that at least five people were killed and 26 wounded in a missile strike that hit the Ukrainian military headquarters and a residential area in the eastern city of Kramatorsk,
February 11, 2015: The leaders of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine are scheduled to meet in Minsk, Belarus to discuss a prospective de-escalation of the conflict in Ukraine. The death toll in this conflict surpasses 5,300 lives lost, with more than one million civilians displaced due to fighting in eastern Ukraine.
The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.