Raising fears that World War 3 is drawing ever closer, a new study by an investigative group appears to confirm that troops stationed inside Russia itself savagely shelled Ukraine troop positions last July — despite claims by Russian President Vladimir Putin that his country has no involvement in the 10-month war between the government of Ukraine and forces characterized as "rebels," who are fighting to split parts of eastern Ukraine off from that country and join Russia.
While Putin has long maintained the official Russian stance that his country's troops have never entered Ukraine and have not participated in the country's civil war in any way, the Ukraine government has consistently stated that Russian soldiers have been spotted and in some instances, killed inside Ukrainian borders.
Even when Ukraine authorities have produced identification documents that appear to show the slain troops are Russian soldiers, Putin has shrugged off the accusations, saying the fighters were "volunteers" over whom his government has no authority.
This week, the United States and the European Union have also publicly accused Russia of taking part in the Ukraine conflict directly.
But the study released Tuesday by the investigative reporting group Bellingcat shows, for the first time, that Russia has launched deadly mortar shells from inside its own borders against Ukraine government troops.
The artillery attacks covered by the study happened between July and September of 2014, and Ukraine immediately accused Russia of launching the shells from its own side of the border — but then, as now, the Russians denied that any artillery was fired from inside Russia.
"After reviewing and analyzing these satellite images as well as videos from social media, local media reports, and the shifting maps of the ongoing conflict, the Bellingcat investigation team has determined that there is compelling evidence that artillery attacks on Ukrainian territory and against Ukrainian armed forces originated from the territory of Russia," the Bellingcat team wrote.
The attacks came at a time when Ukraine government troops had pushed the pro-Russian separatists back, reclaiming large swaths of territory in eastern Ukraine, near the Russian border.
"However, on the morning of 11 July, 2014, the situation suddenly changed. A massive and unexpected artillery attack on units in the Zelenopillya region kiled 30 and wounded over 100 soldiers," Bellingcat recounts in its report.
"In the days and weeks that followed, the units at the border were subjected to dozens of additional artillery attacks."An earlier Bellingcat report had identified a Buk missile launcher that the investigators said was used to shoot down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, killing 298 people, on July 17. The group determined that the launcher belonged to the Russian military.
The new Bellingcat study used satellite images of artillery shell craters, and tire tracks leading to and from alleged firing positions, to determine that the the fierce shelling originated inside Russian territory.
[Image: Rob Stothard/Getty Images]