Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree Thursday making secret the death of any Russian soldiers engaged in special operations, the day after reports surfaced of Russian troops gathering at the Ukrainian border.
Previously, the deaths of special operations troops only counted as state secrets during a time of active warfare, The Washington Post reports. That no longer is the case.
U.S. State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke didn’t take the news well and slammed Putin’s decision as willful contribution to the confusion and haze surrounding Russia’s involvement in Ukraine.
“We see this as a misplaced effort to cover up what everyone knows, and that is that Russian active duty military personnel are fighting and dying in eastern Ukraine and that the Russian government is denying it,” Rathke said.
Tanks, artillery and other weaponry now sit near the Ukrainian border, but according to Reuters, troops are actively removing insignias and stripping identification tags off military vehicles. This move parallels Russia’s initial annexation of Crimea from Ukraine last year. None of the troops wore insignias.
The amount of military gear moving near the border region is reportedly three times more than what was originally present in March of this year.
Some of the soldiers stated that they were sent to the area for exercises.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov balked at a question from Reuters as to whether these factors indicated the possibility of an invasion, saying “I find the wording of this question, ‘if an invasion is being prepared’, inappropriate as such.” Peskov further denied any connection between Putin’s latest decree and the possibility of launching an operation in Ukraine, as next month, European nations vote on whether to loosen sanctions on Russia.
Yet, despite denial of any involvement, independent researchers keep digging up evidence linking rockets fired on the Russian side of the border with large craters in eastern Ukraine, specifically the town Panchenkove.
“Independent researchers, using open sources and rigorous methodology, have demonstrated that Russian troops and Russian weapons have been an important part of the fight in Ukraine’s east,” John E. Herbst, a former American ambassador to Ukraine, told The New York Times.
The ceasefire established in February still exists, but each side has accused the other of violating terms.
This report, by Jonah Bennett, was cross-posted by arrangement with the Daily Caller News Foundation.