Spring is in the air, along with large numbers of Russian shells.
Suffice to say thus far, 2020 has not started well. We’ve seen a marked increase in Russia-led forces using heavy weapons and twice advancing to capture Ukrainian positions.
The use of artillery and mortars is nothing new, but the now daily use of them certainly is. Also new to 2020 is the almost constant heavy fighting in the Luhansk Oblast (province). Previously, to provoke a response from the Ukrainian army, Russia-led forces would occasionally pop off a few mortar & artillery shells. They carried out what I call the “firing shuffle.” First, we’d see heavy firing in the Donetsk Oblast, then that would ease off, and they’d increase their firing in the Luhansk Oblast.
Again, Russia’s forces occasionally advancing to capture advanced Ukrainian positions is not new but is rare. Rare because they usually result in failure & a lot of dead and wounded. The fact they’ve advanced twice this year, all be it with only a small number of infantry, indicates a more aggressive stance.
Luhansk region: Ukrainian soldier holds shrapnel from Russian shells fired Feb 18.
What’s behind the increased firing?
1: Compared to the Donetsk Oblast, where traditionally over the last couple of years, most of the firing has taken place, the Luhansk region has been relatively peaceful. The fact we’re now seeing far more firing in Luhansk, might suggest the Russian army command wants to increase the combat readiness of its troops stationed there. To instill discipline and shake up what is a significant force with limited day to day combat experience. Reports of low morale amongst Russia-led forces is another reason for commanders needing to snap soldiers out of their lethargy.
Situation Map showing Russia-led forces firing on Feb 25th.
After the heavy shelling of last week, Mon & Tue of this week has seen the standard slackening of firing. Like clockwork, after a few days, it usually increases again. But 2020 is a little unusual, so we’ll have to wait and see what Russia has in mind.
2: The second consideration is Russia needing to keep the conflict ticking along. Peace in eastern Ukraine is not something Putin’s ever shown any genuine willingness to implement. Fighting a war costs Ukraine crazy amounts of money and makes companies and investors think twice about doing business in Ukraine. Also hinders any potential NATO membership. As the year’s tick by, those living in the occupied territories become integrated and more resigned to living under Russian rule. So time is definitely on Putin’s side.
The constant fighting also allows Putin to play the fake peacemaker at the Normandy Format Summits with Merkel, Macron & Ukraine. At each one, Putin’s said he’ll get the “separatist” to agree to a ceasefire. Macron smiles. Merkel smiles, and Ukraine says to itself (yea right), and yet another newly agreed ceasefire is promptly broken by Russia-led forces after a few days. Remember, Putin agreed to just such a ceasefire back in Dec 2019 and yet here we are. As the old ceasefire saying goes, Ukraine says cease & Russia says fire.
Added to all this is Putin’s dictatorial stubbornness. He messed up big time in Ukraine. Like all tin-pot dictators, he’d no doubt see a military withdrawal as a shameful humiliation, not as something which would benefit Russia. To create a land border to Crimea, Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine in 2014. Six years on, there’s no land border and Russia’s bogged down in eastern Ukraine. Six years on and Russian tax payers are still shelling out crazy amounts of money to hold onto a little bit of Ukraine. Worse than that, Putin’s made most Ukrainians dislike Russia and more pro-western in their outlook. So well done Putin.
Ukrainian soldiers this week with their faithful hounds.
3rd: And lastly, we have the Disengagement areas.
So far, there’s three, two in the Luhansk Oblast and one in Donetsk. As the name suggests, their creation was supposed to herald a reduction in firing within them. However, it seems no one told Russia this. Notably in the Luhansk Oblast, this year has seen a considerable upsurge in firing by Russia’s forces near the Zolote disengagement area and constant smaller scale firing at Petrivske in the Donetsk region. This upsurge is obviously a deliberate act by Russia. It allows Russia’s propaganda to claim it’s Ukraine breaking the ceasefires and disrupting the potential for peace, which these disengagement areas may bring.
So again, we’ll have to wait and see how things pan out, but as it stands, the establishment of disengagement areas at Zolote & Petrivske has increased the fighting, not reduced it.
Taken this week, the skeleton remains of Donetsk city, international airport.
2014/15 it was pulverized by Russian artillery, leaving it a shattered, ghostly ruin.
Below is a video posted today from the Zolote disengagement area. Ukrainian soldiers talk about the recent fighting.