Tensions in Eastern Ukraine Escalate: Shells Land on Russia Soil as Donbas Civilians Become Refugees in Russia

Following several weeks of high tensions, during which multiple Western official sources claimed Russia was set to imminently invade Ukraine while Moscow warned of resumed hostilities within Ukraine initiated by Kiev, conflict has escalated near Russia's borders. The Donbas regions of Eastern Ukraine, which have been held by separatist forces aided by Russia since 2014, came under renewed attack from the Ukrainian armed forces in the evening of February 18 resulting in a large flow of refugees into Russia. The attack came in the form of intense artillery bombardment, and reported use of car bombs and other operations by saboteurs. The Russian Foreign Ministry has claimed that Ukrainian government forces may be supported by mercenaries from be Balkans in this campaign.

With civilian infrastructure in Donbas suffering considerable damage within a very short 36 hour period, it remains uncertain whether Russia will intervene more directly against the Ukrainian government to support Donbas separatists. There are a number of indications that Russia may see pretext to do so, including claims on February 19 that Ukrainian shells landed on Russian soil, repeated claims by Russian officials that Ukrainian actions against its Russian minority represent an act of genocide, and emphasis by officials and in state media of the mass movement of refugees into Russia which could allow Moscow to portray and military intervention as necessary to stem the flow. Of these, however, only Ukrainian shelling of Russian territory would provide a robust legal pretext for military intervention. 

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