Assessment of Russia’s next military moves in Ukraine after the fall of Debaltseve

Early February 18, thousands of Ukrainian troops began withdrawing – or rather fleeing – the (almost) pocket of Debaltseve after the Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko kept them deliberately inside the trap “to show the whole world the face of the bandits-separatists backed by Russia” after the Minsk “agreement”, knowing this would cost more lives of his best troops, fighting in the area since Christmas last year.

Despite Russian invaders trying to kill as many as possible of the fleeing troops, attacking MEDEVAC points with all kinds of heavy weapons, most of the Ukrainian soldiers managed to leave the area alive, even taking some 90% of their equipment with them. However, up 100 troops were killed during the two days of withdrawal, almost 200 injured and around 120 captured by the invasion army. Two days later on February 20, not only the entire city was under Russian control, but also 420 km² of Ukrainian land (a flagrant violation of the Minsk 1-agreed on demarcation line) were lost due to the overwhelming Russian army involvement as well as the incompetence and unwillingness to counterattack by the Ukrainian side.

At the end of the day, Russia achieved what Putin had already predicted after the end of the Minsk 2 talks on February 12, namely to close the gap between its two puppet regimes in eastern Ukraine and to gain total control over all train and car traffic in occupied Donbas. After that, many western politicians and media analysts were hopeful that now, Putin’s aspirations in Ukraine would be satisfied and there would be no more need for further conflict. … Way off the mark!

As both sides stopped shooting around Debaltseve, the fire reappeared and re-intensified at the (still) Ukrainian-held, well-known hot spots around Donetsk, namely Avdeevka to its north and the frontline villages around the now Russian-held airport, namely Vodyane, Opytne and Pisky.

map 20.02.

It seems obviously that further advance in these areas remains an imperative for the Russian invasion command as its largest occupied city (Donetsk) is still a “border town” and close to several nearby Ukrainian army strongholds, a situation it even could not accept if it had no further plans to advance westward during the next months.

At the same time, Russia’s thirst for more land is most visible in the south where the largest free city in the Donetsk region Mariupol remains a red rag for the aggressor. Hence, it is not surprising that multiple reports indicate strong reinforcements arrived close to the freshly retaken areas east of the city from Taganrog in Russia, preparing the next large-scale offensive. The expected push would not just be to retake the recently liberated small towns of Shyrokyne, Berdyans’ke, Lebedyns’ke, Pavlopil and Kominternove but to finally gain control over Mariupol itself, paving the way for the needed push westwards along the Azov Sea, via Melitopol towards the Ukrainian border with Crimea.


Around February 20, the first of these Russian troops arrived to the coastal settlement of Shyrokyne, where tanks and infantry forces, backed by mortar batteries intensified their assault on the Ukrainian-held line of defense west of the town, leading to first casualties. On February 22, visual reports of new artillery rounds, releasing multiple fragmented shells appeared, leaving no doubt Russia was serious as ever to regain the recently lost 100 km² east of Mariupol and more.

While the above assessment is based on recent fighting activity on the ground, there is more reason to believe in a resurgence of fighting in southern and western occupied Donetsk oblast. Geolocated footage of Russian army troops, involved in the fighting for Debaltseve until last week indicates those forces are not – as widely hoped for in Europe – going back to Russia after their mission in Ukraine would be accomplished, but move to potential new battlefields in the two areas described above. The most memorable formation, followed via first-hand footage, involves the high tech Russian army-only T-72B3 tanks, with many more armored vehicles crucial to last week’s victory in central Donbas and probably needed in any meaningful future assault.

The Russian main force with many T-72B1 and B3 attacked Debaltseve from Zorynsk after passing Luhansk from Russia earlier this month. This column with not less than 30 armored vehicles was filmed at several geographical points by locals moving to the south west after the battle of Debaltseve ended, indicating its redeployment to the wider Donetsk area or further south, to east of Mariupol

tank column

In conclusion, it is Russia and the Supreme Commander of the invasion Vladimir Putin only who benefit from the latest Minsk agreement.

The necessary redeployment of hundreds of armored vehicles and artillery pieces to new fighting theaters while ruling when and when not to show these movements to the OSCE, enables them to keep up the picture of “withdrawal in accordance with the Minsk 2 deal” while getting in a position to once again strike hard with all their available man- and firepower

The naive and dangerous Ukrainian 100% adherence of the agreed on ceasefire gives Russia the possibility to once again thin out certain frontline sectors (e.g. Pervomaisk and Kirovs’k for now) while not being under any threat that these open flanks will be used by the Ukrainian army for diversionary attacks. Hence, it is again Russia which will – just like after Minsk 1 – decide when and where to strike and advance, using all its military potential in eastern Ukraine at one or two chosen points while the Ukrainian side keeps stretched thin all along the almost 400 km long front.

As we have seen in January when Donetsk airport fell and February when Debaltseve and some 20 other towns and villages fell, the Russian side does not need an excuse to escalate its efforts for getting hold of a certain area, nonetheless claiming, it is obeying the agreed on ceasefire(s). It is most of the European media that feels obligated to report Kremlin-claimed “Ukrainian offensives” (like we have seen it for weeks in January) until admitting, it is Russia and its proxies, which advance and take more territory. And it is the Ukrainian government that feels obligated to not use heavy arms and counterattack in a meaningful way until it is already too late and another strip of important land miraculously turns “strategically unimportant” and can be given up to the Russian side and its puppet republics.

The aftermath of Minsk 2 seems to become a copy of the aftermath of Minsk 1 with the tiny difference that this time, Russia does not feel the necessity anymore to refrain from offensive military operations as it did for several months after the September 2014 agreement. The Ukrainian and European answers to its continuous and increasing aggression turned out to be mainly empty threats and too weak to frighten it anymore, leaving a gloomy prospect for the months and years to come.

21 thoughts on “Assessment of Russia’s next military moves in Ukraine after the fall of Debaltseve

  1. Pingback: Minsk2 – A quel jeu jouent MERKEL et HOLLANDE ? : « … « Ce matin, il y a eu deux attaques de chars près de Marioupol  et « les combats continuent , a déclaré à la mi-journée un porte-parole milit

  2. Since early last year this has been like watching a car crash in slow motion. All the leaders on both sides have proved themselves remarkably incompetent – with the possible exception of the separatists who get to play with guns & have their few months of limelight & feeling important, and (presumably) don’t actually care much about the population of Donetsk & Luhansk etc.
    Anyway, given Putin seems prepared to give the separatists just enough kit / ‘volunteers’ to win the next limited battle, even if this is dooming Russia to a role of outcast for the next decade (& ensuring that 90% of Ukraine is forever determined to be outside the Russian sphere of influence), what should Poroshenko et al do ? NATO is not going to put its troops into Ukraine, so even if quantities of arms supplies suddenly became available, Ukraine (with limited trained men & seemingly dysfunctional command & control) is not going to be able to regain much territory, or even stop continual encroachment if Putin just ups the ante. In any case, there is absolutely nothing to be gained from trying to incorporate by force into Ukraine people who don’t want to be incorporated. The only way forward, in a democracy, is via persuasion / hearts & minds. The Kievians who took over from Yanukovych were incredibly short-sighted not to realise that, if they wanted to avoid giving the ‘back in the USSR’ types a chance to stir up trouble in Donbass/Crimea, they needed to mount an immediate charm offensive to woo normal, reasonable Eastern Ukrainians by offering assurances about speaking Russian, denouncing extremist anti-russians, giving as much self-determination as desired (via real, monitored votes on different options etc). This still applies – surely what Poroshenko needs to do is to make generous & friendly offers of self-determination etc to all the towns / cities / regions still under his control, and (as far as possible) conduct fair & monitored votes. Whatever the result – this would completely undercut any rationale for continuing attacks/expansion by the Russia-backed separatists. If a town or city decides, in a fair vote, it wants full autonomy or even independence (or to join Russia) then that is what should happen – in the long run (the rest of) Ukraine will not gain by trying to keep people who do not want to be in it. But I can’t see sensible people choosing eg to be run by the mob currently running Donetsk / Luhansk – who have brought totally unnecessary disaster to ‘their’ people (except a lot of them seem to come from Russia). Ask people in Donetsk if they prefer the situation they are in now, or the one they were in shortly after Yanukovych fled !! Armed insurrection is reasonable only if there is immediate threat of massacres or repression, but there absolutely was not. Most of Donbass is still under control of the ‘fascists’ in Kiev (& currently in a war zone) – where are the reports of massacres & repression of Russian speakers ? Those (mostly Russian) pro-USSR extremists & ‘boys with toys’ who started the insurrection in Slavyansk, and the population who allowed them to (blinded by anti-kiev propaganda) have led Donetsk & Luhansk into a disaster which will take decades to recover from, whatever the final outcome.

  3. “most of the Ukrainian soldiers managed to leave the area alive, even taking some 90% of their equipment with them”

    … hightly doubt that.. if a lot of men could have escape thougth fields by night in little groups, moving 90% of their vehicules out of an “almost encirclement” appears impossible. How did you come to this conclusion ?

    Most chances is that the ukrenian operational commanders on the field have exchanged their safe passage against their equipment. There is a bunch of videos showing “a lot” of intact ukranian heavy equipement in an around debalcevo, and i doubt the rebels are interested to feed and take care of a lot of POW.

  4. Really good analysis. Thank you.
    Your points about european media is more than correct.
    One thing I can not explain is Ukr. operative behaviour

    • Treason. 2 previous Defense ministers were Russian citizens. Now in Russia. Many of the UA generals are FSB agents. Others purchased their positions for bribes. Not a single Western embassy reads newspapers or has any interest in what goes on in Ukraine. Same for secret services. West is in the New Middle Age.

  5. Dear David, you have to take into account the crime which happened in Odessa, on one side it is quite understandable that pro-Russians felt afraid especially after Odessa, the events there have sent a very strong and very bad message

    • A Russian Troll is writing this. Check this. It is the most effective low tech cyber. US prepares to “counter” with own trolls. All of this sucks. Humanity is transformed in trolls. Everybody will be a troll one day. Robots in China will manufacture all we need.

  6. How did it happen that the Ukrainians managed to retreat? Reading yours and other articles it seemed like that was hardly an option for them. And why did the Russians let them do it?

    Unless they surrendered their equipment, this situation turned out much more convenient for the Ukrainians that it could have been expected, and I’d like to know how this outcome was possible.

    • One of the reports said the UA artillery stopped for 24 hours after “Minsk-2 hybrid cover-up” was signed by the leaders of the Free World and Putin’s tampons, Ms Merkel and Hollande. The Russians made most of the advances at that point. Later, the artillery from outside Debaltsevo mostly restarted. Russians therefore were not so comfortable massacring UA retreating soldiers. Merkel and Hollande are still responsible for the deaths of 100 as well as for injuries of others. Should go to the Hague tribunal together with Putin and Poroshenko.

  7. Looking at one of the railroad connections from Luhansk they might want to go for Stanytsia Luhanska to get another connection in to Russia.

    But the next move has also been announced by Dugin, in the form of a Russian Spring offensive towards Mariupol and Melitopol.
    (Google Translate): “Russian Spring 2015 program for the future is clear. Going with the forces. We continue to advance (sorry, “truce”) to its logical limit. Army in the New Russia feat in Debaltseve showed its heroic nature, power and consistency. She is. This means that there is a country, the New Russia. Create a government-in-exile Yanukovych / Azarov. Moving on. ”
    … “And now, little by little – in the rhythm of Lent, which is Monday, so severe and focused – we will return.”
    … “And do not even Melitopol (and we need a railroad to our sacred Crimean land). And do not even Mariupol, but it is, I hope, soon.”

  8. Pingback: stilstand» Blogarchiv » Merkels Mirakel

  9. Pingback: Silent advances – the Russian offensive towards Mariupol already began | Conflict Report

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