In 2014, Russia made several military incursions into Ukrainian territory. Beginning with Crimea, Russian soldiers without insignias took control of strategic positions and infrastructure within the Ukrainian territory of Crimea, which Russia annexed after a disputed referendum. Subsequently, demonstrations by pro-Russian groups in the Donbass area of Ukraine escalated into an armed conflict between the Ukrainian government and separatist forces of the self-declared Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics. In August, Russian military vehicles crossed the border in several locations of Donetsk Oblast The incursion by the Russian military was seen as responsible for the defeat of Ukrainian forces in early September.
In November 2014, the Ukrainian military reported intensive movement of troops and equipment from Russia into the separatist controlled parts of eastern Ukraine. The Associated Press reported 80 unmarked military vehicles on the move in rebel-controlled areas. An OSCE Special Monitoring Mission observed convoys of heavy weapons and tanks in DPR-controlled territory without insignia. According to a former Pentagon strategy adviser there were as many as 7,000 Russian troops inside Ukraine in early November 2014, and OSCE monitors stated they observed vehicles transporting ammunition and soldiers’ dead bodies crossing the Russian-Ukrainian border under the guise of humanitarian aid convoys. As of early August 2015, OSCE observed over 21 such vehicles marked with the Russian military code for soldiers killed in action. According to The Moscow Times, Russia has tried to intimidate and silence human rights workers discussing Russian soldiers’ deaths in the conflict. OSCE repeatedly reported that its observers were denied access to the areas controlled by “combined Russian-separatist forces”.
The majority of members of the international community and organizations such as Amnesty International have condemned Russia for its actions in post-revolutionary Ukraine, accusing it of breaking international law and violating Ukrainian sovereignty. Many countries implemented economic sanctions against Russia, Russian individuals or companies – to which Russia responded in kind.
In October 2015, the Washington Post reported that Russia has redeployed some of its elite units from Ukraine to Syria in recent weeks to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In December 2015, Putin admitted that Russian military intelligence officers were operating in Ukraine.