About Julian Röpcke

I am a German conflict intelligence analyst / online citizen journalist, who went by the alias of "Conflict Reporter" and now works under his real name. I follow geopolitical developments and conflicts since the start of the Iraq war in 2003. I was active in various forums like terroristmedia.com, tracking extremist organisations across the globe. Since 2011, I analyze asymmeterical and traditional conflicts via Twitter, for instance in Syria, Ukraine, Egypt, Israel, Iraq and Russia, trying to make sense out of what appears on the net from those wars. Feel free to read my analytical / investigative stories in that blog and follow my daily updates on Twitter.

Exclusive: Ukraine’s war realities, unprettified

During my last trip to Kyiv, Dnipro and Donbas, I’ve been in several closed-door meetings with military staff and international strategists. The following text lists some of my observations and things I was told about realities of the war in Ukraine.

All information was provided under Chatham House Rules, so it is much more straight forward than what you would hear or read from official briefings and politicians’ statements. For the same reason, I won’t name any source, naturally.


The Ukrainian Army leadership in Donbas


Russian forces and support

Right now, Ukraine faces some 36.300 separatists (most of them Ukrainians) at the front. While 2016 saw around 9.000 Russian troops in eastern Ukraine, this number declined to 3.000. “The problem is that they left their equipment all behind. High tech equipment.” Military academies and (Ukrainian) separatist army training bases work “highly efficient”, some still under Russian army command with many trainers being Russian-trained Ukrainians by now. They are now training “the 3rd generation” of fighters, meaning Russian-trained Ukrainians educate new Ukrainians. Separatist troops are trained on traditional weapons as well as state of the art Russian Army electronic warfare equipment, the invaders left-behind. This results in a well-trained enemy army.

However, over the past months, Russians have reduced logistic and military support in Donetsk and Luhansk. The DNR/LNR military and political leaderships are panicking about this and consider having their own offensive operations against Ukraine, fearing Russia might look for “diplomatic solutions” in which they might cease to exist.

Right now, separatist/Russian forces of the first and second army corps have 478 operational tanks, 848 APCs and 732 artillery pieces inside Ukraine. Approximately the same amount of equipment is located directly on the Russian side of the occupied territories and can be deployed to the territories within less than one day (with Russian soldiers operating most of the weapons systems).


A look into the Ukrainian HQ bunker in Donbas

Technology gap

“Russia is a master of jamming. They don’t need weapons to drown our drones. They jam them”, one officer said. He was asked, who used drones and jamming to counter enemy aerial vehicles. His answer: “Both sides, but they are definitely better than us.”

What the Ukrainian army needs at the front – and hopes to receive from the US –  is “night vision equipment, jamming systems, radio intelligence tools and secure communication systems, especially to operate UAVs”.

One quite bold argument why drones must be equipped with night vision and laser targeting equipment was, that Ukraine wants to see where it returns fire. “70% of their artillery and mortar positions are located in close proximity to civilian structures in urban areas. Most of the shelling occurs at night. If we return fire, we would like to see what we hit. This would reduce the risk of hitting civilians.” The officer said that Ukraine must strike back if the pro-Russian fire in violation of Minsk threatens the lives of their forces. They do this almost daily, “endangering our own civilians” (in the occupied areas). They want to change the situation, but need more foreign support to do so.


An Ukrainian National Guard “Kozak” armoured vehicle

Separatist war tactics

Some examples of how separatists fight, break the ceasefire and trick the OSCE SMM were given. Around Horlivka, separatist positions sometimes shell each other. “They call them and say, take cover. Then they fire with small arms and both positions ‘return’ fire on us.” Sometimes, separatists fire on their own, sometimes they seem to seek permission from their Russian officers, which are positioned several kilometres behind the front. “This morning, we intercepted their communication. They yelled at their HQ that they were under fire, lying to their officers. We did not fire any shot. Now we wait what the response might be.”

Also, separatists occasionally use entrenched BMP-1 some km from the front as “ballistic weapons”, using their main gun to shell the Ukrainian front “like mortars”. This tactic is used to avoid being spotted by OSCE monitors. It also only very seldomly causes damage or casualties.

Also, the army calls the war tactics of the separatists a “hybrid war”, meaning “propaganda today is the major part in it”. On one day, separatists opened fire 35 times and Ukraine returned fire 8 times. The enemy tenfolded the figure and sent it to the JCCC and the OSCE. “Suddenly we attacked 80 times … “

IMG_1546_cenBriefing at the 128th Separate Mountain Infantry Brigade’s HQ in Toretsk

Europe keeps Ukraine’s army small

The European Union, also Germany, deny Ukraine the military support they want, because the EU wants the Ukrainian army “to punch below its fighting weight”. It knows Putin is the aggressor but also has no full trust in Ukraine’s commitment to the Minsk agreement. It fears, nationalist forces could win the upper hand via democratic elections or within the military structure and launch a surprise offensive to regain what belongs to Ukraine in the east.

Some figures within the Ukrainian political and military sphere see this as the only chance as Minsk does not seem to return any square meter to its rightful owner. At the same time, the Ukrainian army feels – and is – much stronger than in 2014 and could throw its weight into the battle to see if it can recapture entire Donbas. However no one thinks that Poroshenko would order such an attack as another defeat would mean the end of his political career. To make sure, nobody in the Ukrainian leadership does, the EU wants Ukraine to remain under-equipped to a certain degree. Also it is afraid that IF Ukraine’s army became a proper opponent to what Russia can send it at any moment, the conflict could spiral out of control.

The Ukrainian army position on the diplomatic initiative is: “Russia suffers under the sanctions, keeping them in place is the only way to eventually solve the conflict due to negotiations”. Some experts think that this implies, lifting the sanctions against Russia could make the Ukrainian government and army turn to “Plan B” as mentioned above.

Screen Shot 2017-09-20 at 13.11.29

An Ukrainian trooper stands guard near our convoy

Minsk line and the grey zone

Asked about OSCE observations that the Ukrainian army sometimes advances into the grey area, officers made it clear that they regard the – signed also by Russia! – September 19, 2014 contact line as the real one, according to Minsk. This means the army sees advances into the grey zone “to supply our citizens in it” and possibly take new positions as its full right.

The grey zone, meaning points behind what Ukraine holds now but what it regards as on its side of the September 19, 2014 contact lin,e reaches “between 200 meters and 7 kilometres” into not-held territory, sometimes held by separatists, sometimes held by nobody. Thus, it includes “hundreds of settlements” which Ukraine regards as under its protection according to the first Minsk agreement. The army denies that entering these areas violates Minsk and left open, whether it could install permanent positions inside this area. For now, only temporary advances are on the agenda.


Map of Donetsk in the Ukrainian Army HQ in Donbas

Economic downturn risks

While Ukrainian politicians are not really afraid of the country’s recession getting out of control, some foreign experts, living in Kyiv, paint a worst-case scenario. The Euro-Hryvnia exchange rate fell from 1:10 in December 2010 to 1:31 in September 2017. If the Hryvnia fell to between 1:50 or even 1:100, experts fear there could be a mass exodus of Ukrainians to the EU. “You have 5 million people, trying to get into Poland, if that happens”, one expert told me. More millions would try to reach other parts of the EU, traveling via Belarus and Poland to the Baltic states or Romania towards Spain. “Do you want to shoot these people? ‘Cause this is the only way you could stop them in such a stuation”, the expert asked

Russian-speaking people could turn to Russia, fleeing to it or even rise up in the eastern and southern regions, trying to make those areas part of Russia. By the way: All experts agree that Russia is not better off economically, just more successfully creating that image with its propaganda, also received among many “neutral” Ukrainians.


Visit to a steel factory in Dnipro Oblast

Because of all this, economic experts assume that Ukraine is “too big to fail” and must be economically secured at any price. So the fight against the economic downturn is closely connected to the fight against Russia’s hybrid war on the country and the fight against corruption.

Speaking of corruption: One airborne unit commander gave Mr. Rasmussen a “message” to Poroshenko: “Please remind the president of 2014 and the Maidan: If we lose the war against corruption, we not just lose the war in the east, but also all of our state.”


Silent Advance Part III – Russian forces advance towards Avdeevka

Over the last months – before and after the signature of the “Mins 2 peace treaty” – daily reports of shelling and small arms attacks on the Ukrainian town of Avdeevka, 3 km north of Donetsk, appeared. However, the Ukrainian army never reported of territorial advances by enemy forces and thus own losses in land possession and defensive positions of the 35.000 inhabitants city, the biggest frontline town, directly bordering occupied Donbas.

However, recent geolocated footage of Russian forces prove, also on this front, Ukraine is silently conceding land to the invasion army while claiming its forces hold the front since the fall of Debaltseve around February 20.

Unfortunately, there is not much footage coming from the hot spot fighting areas North of Donetsk, mostly because it is life threatening to record it in the “triangle of death” between Avdeevka, Spartak and Opytne. Thus, beside several written reports, the last geolocable footage from the area appeared in early February, when Russian forces pushed Ukrainian defenders back from the “passenger carload depot” train station, bordering Spartak to the east.


Since then, the front seemed to have stabilized, not because of the – mostly “Minsk 2” imperative to not further advance, which is widely ignored by the Russian side, but because of the geographical circumstances, namely the open fields and rural landscape between Donetsk and Avdeevka, hampering unrecognized military movement in the area. This was a big luck for the Ukrainian side as the forest directly south of the inhabited part of Avdeevka offer a perfect launch pat for sabotage missions and bigger ground forces moves. Given the early February setting, approaching enemy forces could be spotted and addressed by snipers, tanks or even indirect artillery fire, which was an important precondition for a successful defense of Avdeevka against the backdrop of further Russian territorial aspeirations.


All these advantages disappeared since then. Geolocated and analyzed footage from April 28 shows Russian forces not just crossed the plain between Donetsk and Avdeevka, but also built (at least) one “bridgehead” on its northern side, just along the railway tracks. Hopes that these troops were only reconnaissance teams were short-lived when further footage from the area appeared, revealing bunkers and tranches, established in the area. It is not clear since when, these forces are stationed in the area, but the April 28 “good news” from Russian invasion media that they approached Ukrainian forces until 200 meters and a seemingly southwards oriented sand back installation, indicate the takeover took place during the last days, possibly coinciding with a Russian Grad missile attack in the area (strictly forbidden by the Minsk treaty). Although there is no more footage from the area, it must be assumed from the three available videos and the behavior of troops, seen in it, that other Ukrainian forward positions have also fallen meanwhile and there is little fear among filmed units at the front to be counterattacked from anywhere else than the north and possibly north west.

Thus, the situation now looks – once again – much more gloomy for Ukrainian defenders, which – under daily small arms, mortar, artillery and Grad attacks seem to have left their forward positions along the February front. These withdrawals and – obviously – no attempts to recaptured the “Minsk-lost” territory have not just political implications (the weakness and timidity of the Ukrainian military and political leadership) but also severe strategic ones. Not just have the former Ukrainian-built trenches and bunkers fallen to Russian forces. Ukraine has also lost the ability to monitor and hence prevent larger scale military moves by the Russian invasion army in the area. The next Ukrainian-held territory now seems to be in Opytne and Avdeevka itself. Both are located beyond possible visual axes to overlook the area, which adds to the strategic advantage of the Russian side (see example picture and map below).


In conclusion, the “Minsk-silently-captured” 4 km² and strategically important forward positions South of Avdeevka add – just like the captured territory East of Mariupol and across the Serversky-Donets near Stanytsia-Luhanska – to the traditional Russian territorial gains during “Minsk times”. By these – Ukrainian-concealed – frontline developments during peace times, Russians get into the position to strike harder and more effective as soon as they decide to resume their offensives with all available means. The result of such moves were visible around Donetsk airport and Debaltseve, where Russian forces were allowed to moved into positions during calmer periods and then achieved all their military goals during more hot ones. It remains to be seen, if the latest silent Ukrainian losses will play a role in future military confrontations. But given the fact that the Russian invasion command in Moscow already set its eyes on strategically-important Avdeevka and knowing, Russia is doing everything in its power to upgrade its hybrid army in Ukraine, its silent advances – respectively, Ukraine’s irresponsibly-silent losses – could bear fruit for it rather sooner than later.

Silent advances reloaded: Ukraine loses another village East of Mariupol

In the recent days, fighting in Eastern Ukraine intensified once again with the Russian side, starting the next round of (previously-announced) escalation. 18 Ukrainian soldiers were killed and wounded over the last 24 hours without any political actor – neither in Europe or Kiev – calling Russia’s current “Minsk 2 bluff” and declaring the treaty as broken and consequences to be implemented immediately.

But this appeasing silence doesn’t only cover up dead Ukrainian troops and daily Minsk 2 violations by the Russian side (using violence in principal and weapons, forbidden by the signed treaty) It also conceals more territorial losses by the Ukrainian side. I documented and proved the loss of Kominternove, Pavlopil, Pyshchevyk, half of Shyrokyne and two bridgeheads on the Ukrainian side of the Serversky-Donets river, just shortly after the ink under the Minsk 2 treaty dried. But the Russian advance continues with one focus being Mariupol, on which the invasion army is creepingly closing in, meter by meter over the last two months.

The last position that fell under their control is the village of Vodyane, located 2 km to the N-E of Lebedyns’ke and 7 km East of the Mariupol city limits itself. The last solid confirmation that Vodyane was under Ukrainian forces’ control appeared at March 2 and March 7 when the Ukrainian army command of sector M reported small arms and mortar attacks on the village. While there were some more reports about fighting in the area, my map from March 21 raised first (slight) doubt about who controls the village, leaving the possibility that it turned into “no man’s land” between the two parties.

Then yesterday, April 13, final confirmation came from Regiment Azov that the village was not just what the Ukrainian military calls “located in a buffer zone”, but fell back under full Russian control and now serves as an artillery firing position for 122 mm pieces, most probably Russian army D-30 systems. The Azov tank commander also said, Ukrainian forces had to attack Russian positions in the village with heavy weapons to silence the artillery fire for the moment. The “Before and After” map below show the situation as it looked before the confirmation of the loss and now, based on an informed estimate and the inclusion of all available sources.

before after

The severeness of the territorial situation becomes even more obvious / frightening, when comparing what Regiment Azov and other Ukrainian forces recaptured from the Russian occupation army in early February and what is left of these gains now after the fall of Vodyane.

mariupol 14.4.

Map source: http://slovoidilo.ua/ Own marks and insertion of Vodyane village

As it can be seen in the map, the buffer zone, Ukrainian forces created in their 3-day blitz in February to safeguard Mariupol is almost nonexistent by now. All territorial losses appeared after the Minsk 2 treaty was signed by all involved parties and are downplayed by the Western/Ukrainian side to “further deescalate the situation”. In point of fact, the opposite is the case. It remains to be seen how the situation in the last two Ukrainian strongholds in the area, Lebedyns’ke and Shyrokyne, develops over the coming weeks and months. However the Russian intention to get back into striking distance of Mariupol seems clear as well as realizable as long as Ukraine and the west hushes up the seriousness of the situation there and along the entire front.

The next logical step – Russia supplies its invasion army in Ukraine by train

Against the backdrop of an – again – escalating war in Eastern Ukraine, it was revealed today that Russia extended its “support for the rebels” or rather: supply of its troops by a further mean, namely by a direct train connection from Russia into occupied Donbas.

Given the fact that the Russian invasion command did everything to conquer the important railway knot of Debaltseve and seeing a steady escalation in Russian-led violence in Eastern Ukraine over the last weeks, the assumption that full-scale hostilities will resume until summer seems rather obvious. Thus, it is no surprise that the Russian army needs to create a strong and steady supply line to its forces in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Rumors that such line was established popped up here and there over the last 2 months, however, solid evidence was missing so far.

This changed today, when the Ukrainian Twitter user “Lenz Gottfried” uploaded a picture of two Russian “hybrid” troops, hugging at an undosclosed train station in front of what seemed to be a (state-owned) Russian Railways cargo train, packed with ammunition boxes.

russian railways

According to the uploader of the picture, the boxes contain ammunition for the «Акации» / 2S3 Akatsiya self-propelled artillery, however this type of artillery system is not known to have been deployed by Russian forces so far. While this description might be a (rather unimportant) mistake given the clearly military cargo inside the wagons, the exact geolocation of the picture inside Ukraine was crucial to verify the claim that the scene played inside Ukraine. This process needed no less than 2 hours, in which I matched more than 50 train stations inside occupied Donbas with the picture, searching for a facility with the properties and objects that can be seen in it. Finally, I found the right one and was able to confirm that despite the small ammunition type error, the scene indeed shows what it claims, namely a direct Russian army supply line into Ukraine’s Luhansk region via railway, more precisely the town of Sukhodil’s‘k, around 10 km from the border with Russia. The below picture shows the analytical chart that verifies the location as well as the way, the train probably took to get there.


As it can be seen in the chart above, the train likely entered via the Russian-occupied Izvaryne border crossing, which (despite claims to have done so) the Ukrainian army was never able to reach since the start of the invasion in April last year. Thus, it served  as a safe passage for Russian troops and equipment, crossing it in vehicles as well as the notorious “humanitarian aid convoys”, since then. However its use for the illegal entry (aka invasion) of Russian army-organized and -stuffed trains hasn’t been proven so far. This changed today.

Where does all this lead?

The emergence of the train in Sukhodil’s’k, 18 kilometers of tracks into Ukraine, is – for sure – only the tip of the iceberg. At this very location, no Russian arms are needed right now and the town only serves as a transit point for that kind of carriage. Instead the tracks, lead towards the front near Stanytsia Luhanska in the north and practically endlessly towards the west, where fighting increased over the last 4 weeks. More such deadly cargo, transported by train, should and will be found along these axes, then however, probably not in Russian Railways wagons anymore.

Finally, the first appearance of Russian state trains, filled with ammunition, inside Ukraine, is another stark reminder that this conflict is far from over. Instead the Russian side takes a – well-documented – deep breath to come back with all its “hybrid” force and take more territory inside Ukraine; probably before this summer. The usage of Russian trains to facilitate that carefully and long-planned move is just another logical step in Russia’s escalation ladder and thanks to the “media friendly” invasion troops, its revelation was just a question of time.

A dream comes true – I will be a professional journalist with @BILD_News from May.

Dear Twitter follower and/or blog reader,

since 3 years and 5 months, I provide you with BreakingNews, Analysis and Opinion from conflict hot spots around the world, focusing mainly on Syria on Ukraine, but also the wider Middle East as well as Eastern Europe and the CCCP successor republics. As there will be some major changes in my appearance – not my stance or focus – soon, I think you deserve to know more about it and wrote the following explaining article.

Since December 2011, I do my “job” on Twitter with all passion and enthusiasm, spending 4-12 hours a day on it. Thanks to these efforts, more than 25.000 people follow me there, millions read my tweets and 160.000 people read the articles, I posted on this blog over the last 5 months. All in all, this really felt like a “job”, but it was none. Instead, I did all of it on a voluntary basis and had a regular job during the whole time, mostly unrelated to the topics,I post and write about here. Hence, more than once my “real life job” and my Twitter activities got in each other’s way, both consuming my time, focus and energy.

This will change soon. From May 2015, I’ll be multimedia editor for the news section of the online edition of Germany’s largest newspaper Bild, namely www.bild.de. In this position, I’ll be able to make my – passionately and almost-professionally operated – hobby my new full-time employment, combining the fascinating online news platform possibilities, Bild.de offers, with my personal and learned skills.

As you can imagine, I didn’t make the decision to – partly – give up my independence without reflecting on the situation. But, to be honest, it didn’t take me long to compare bild.de’s approach of news-making and opinion-shaping as well as its political stance with my personal one (the one, you know from 54.000+ tweets, I posted). Bild.de’s pro-liberal-democratic / pro-Western / pro-bitter truth / anti-(semi)dictatorial regimes approach is literally 100% congruent to my personal conviction.


Therefore, it was quite an easy choice to join bild.de’s news team. This will give me the possibility to make a difference by professionalizing my way of open-source-based revealing journalism and I sincerely hope and foresee my input will be an asset for bild.de too.

What does this mean for my Twitter account and Blog?

Well, a lot will change, but I’ll stay the same. During the talks with my future superiors, we agreed that using Twitter and my account for communicating and as a source for developing news stories, was, is and will be an integral part of my “method” and thus will also play an important role in the future as long as it does not interfere with my other work. So yes, I’ll be able to further focus on the conflicts I chose and post BreakingNews, Analysis and Opinion on them. Beside that, I’ll probably also have a look at other topics and I’m thinking about tweeting a bit more in German as this is my language. 😉 The Twitter account will of course ONLY reflect my personal opinion. Furthermore, beside my personal findings, I will probably be able to post interesting stuff from my news coverage at bild.de as well.

I also plan to continue my blog / homepage www.conflictreport.info , writing on conflicts and aspects, I am interested in. This will stay my personal blog with only one editor and story writer – me. Of course, I’ll only work on it in my spare time – so exactly like I did until now.

Last but not least, I plan to tweet and write under my real name in the near future, adding to my integrity and credibility as a journalist. I know that this might be connected to a certain amount of troubles as I haven’t only made friends during the last years by speaking out loud for justice and the truth as I see it. However, I know that many thousands of journalists interpret what they see and hear in controversial ways (to some) but stand by their opinion and publicly-announced perspective despite all odds. I always said, that if I ever become professional in what I do, I’ll follow suit. So be it.

So yes. Basically, the title says it all. A dream comes true for me and I want to thank bild.de and especially the man who recognized my abilities and decided to give me the chance.

As for you, dear blog reader and Twitter follower, I sincerely hope, you will remain faithful to my news service on Twitter and here despite my soon beginning alignment with a powerful, but not less controversial, media organization. 😉 I am convinced, this new job and orientation will be of mutual benefit for me, you and my new employer. 🙂

Best regards and looking forward to the future

Conflict Reporter

The battle of Shyrokyne – escalation is looming

While the front between Ukrainian and Russian troops seems quite stable during the last weeks, several solid indication points at an escalation during the coming weeks with one main hot spot seeming to be the area East of the coastal hub Mariupol, namely the village of Shyrokyne.

Regarding the Russian side, there have been a number of attacks on the Ukrainian fortifications on the Western outskirts of the village over the last weeks, sometimes more, sometimes less intense. Five days ago, the so far heaviest artillery attack took place, not only on the Ukrainian line of defense in Shyrokyne, but also on the villages located behind, namely Berdyanske and Sopyne. The attack on March 31 included the notorious 2S1 “Gvozdika”, a self-propelled artillery piece, which held and important and finally decisive share in the attack on the Ukrainian line around Debaltseve in February. The below map shows which locations were hit, based on geolocated video footage of the attack.


However, this attack was rather an exception, testing the Ukrainian reaction. Beside that, most attacks over the last weeks were conducted by small arms, grenade launchers and 82 as well as 120 mm mortars. The number of tanks and apcs involved whereas was quite manageable, never exceeding 2 or 3. However, this might change shortly. The OSCE is active in the area, reporting military activities from both sides. In its yesterday report it stated that it launched a drone in the area on April 3, two days ago, witnessing an extraordinary buildup in Russian military hardware. From analyzed drone footage it concluded that no less than 15 Russian main battle tanks – supposedly T-64 and T-72 are stationed “in areas around Shyrokyne”, indicating a large-scale attack is planned during the coming days or weeks. It is worth mentioning, that the same drone only observed one Ukrainian armored personal carrier near Shyrokyne. While Ukrainian forces from Regiment Azov are known to have several T-64B1M located at the second line of defense in Berdyanske, their number should not exceed 2-5. Given the fact, that the OSCE’s drones have a relative short operational range, it must be concluded that the Russian offensive power in the area exceeds Ukraine’s defensive capacities by a multiple. Especially knowing, that larger-caliber weapons like Grad missile launchers and heavy artillery is pulled far back behind Mariupol at the moment.

Looking at the Ukrainian side, some interesting as worrying developments could be seen during the last 48 hours. There is no doubt that Ukraine’s regular army proved in several cases (/battles) over the last months that is is either not able or – rather – not allowed to battle the Russian invasion force with the necessary endurance and – yes – harshness to inflict enough damage to stop or at least significantly slow its Western advance. This is no critique to the troops, fighting on the ground, but to the officers and especially general staff, giving dubious orders to say the least. At the same time, (partly former) volunteer troops from the “Battalion Donbas”, “Regiment Azov”, “Pravy Sector” and others turned out to be much more persistent and free in their decisions to use tactics and means to hold back the Russian aggressors in meaningful ways. Thus, it is no miracle that those troops hold several sectors of the front, including the one East of Mariupol and along the Kalmius river northwards. However, these troops seem to have been reinforced by even more remarkable or rather irregular forces, more specifically foreign fighters from Chechnya and the Chechen diaspora in Europe, willing to settle outstanding scores from earlier wars with Russia.

The so-called “Sheikh Mansour Battalion” consists of volunteer Chechen men, some of them battle-hardened in earlier conflicts like the two wars in Chechnya but also Syria. The last aspect is remarkable as journalists which were in contact with these volunteers inside Ukraine mention, they admit to have fought under the Islamic State terrorist group in Northern Syria before turning to Ukraine to fight the Russian invaders in Crimea and Donbas. Having an Islamist terrorist background or not, the deployment of those fighters represents a direct breach of the Minsk 2 treaty, calling in point 10 for the:

Pullout of all foreign armed formations, military equipment, and also mercenaries from the territory of Ukraine under OSCE supervision.

However, the RUSSIAN side is the last that should start complaining about that treaty violation.

Video footage shows the Chechen fighters, being on the very front between Russian and Ukrainian forces in Shyrokyne. They are not only defending the Ukrainian fortifications, but conducting commando raids deep into the embattled town, looking for direct battle contact with Russian troops in the area. Geolocation of their uploaded footage allows to get some insight into their advance (see map below, green line is the way they took).


This development implies several implications:

1. The Russian invasion army obviously drew its former – and still – enemies with it into Ukraine, which could add to its troubles on the territory of its Western neighbor. Chechen forces created hell for Russian invaders back in the 1990s and the mere shout of “Allah hu akbar” in the streets of Shyrokyne has the potential to frighten them a lot and change things on the ground from a psychological point of view.

2. The Ukrainian leadership obviously has chosen to allow proxies to do what it is officially not willing to do, namely to provoke the Russian side by inflicting damage on it due to offensive operation. Back in February, it was Regiment Azov that was allowed to advance in the south, while the Ukrainian leadership was in active negotiations with Europe and Russia to calm down the conflict. Also then, it looked like the government was searching for a way to not totally surrender while complying with the Minsk 1 and later Minsk 2 treaties. Regiment Azov was the best way to do so as it still has a semi-autonomous leadership within the Ukrainian national guard command structure and Kiev can claim to be “not fully responsible” for its actions.

3. The cooperation of Azov forces and Chechen Islamic fighters can be seen as a myth buster insofar that it shows, prejudices towards the two groups and possibly towards each other don’t apply against the backdrop of a common enemy. The “fascists” – or rather nationalists – from Regiment Azov seem to have no problem with fighting side by side with foreign Muslims when there is enough reason to do so. On the other side, the – at least partially – former IS members from Chechnya seem to have no problem to fight with Christians and alleged “nationalist xenophobics” from a European country. The below picture shows a Chechen fighter in the foreground and an Ukrainian trooper – probably from a National Guard unit (Donbas or Azov) in the background, getting ready for battle.

Chechen Ukrainian fighters

In conclusion, there seem to be steady steps of escalation from both sides, expecting armed confrontation to flare up during the spring. Russia has concentrated enough forces in the area to pierce the Ukrainian line of defense and return to the city limits of Mariupol. It has demonstrated more than once during the last 6 weeks that it does not regard its signature under the Minsk 2 treaty as limiting its territorial aspirations in Eastern Ukraine and especially along the Azov Sea cost. At the same time, Ukraine seems to have finally noticed that there cannot be any trust in the Russian side, especially after the fall of Debaltseve after the signing of the Minsk 2 agreement. Hence, it has decided to deploy fighters to the front area, willing and able to harm Russian troops. By sending foreign “volunteers” to the front that are raiding Russian positions beyond “firing back” after ceasefire violations, it has chosen to provoke the Russian side. A provocation that is far smaller than firing mortars and other weapons over the demarcation line daily, but still a provocation that will be regarded as a “gross violation of the Minsk protocol” by the hypersensitive Russian side, just waiting for things like that to happen to justify further escalation. Ukraine knows that and seems willing to pay that price to keep its face in the light of daily Russian attacks on its troops, which have killed Ukrainian 9 soldiers during the last 48 hours alone.

Hospitals, schools, kindergartens and gas – Assad’s latest war crimes remain unanswered.

During the last days, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and his Iranian/Hezbollah/Russian-supported regime army proved once again that it hasn’t reached its peak in inhuman and war-criminal behavior yet so far, but works hard to reach that goal.

Since last weeks fall of Busra al Sham in southern Daraa province and Idlib city in the alike-name province, the regime further perfected its terrorism against the civilian population, mainly targeting hospitals and schools in the liberated areas as well as using gas-attached barrel bombs on a daily basis.

Clear evidence from southern Syria shows that schools and kindergartens under the control of the Syrian opposition become a deliberate target for the regime air force while they were more or less indiscriminately hit so far (Evidence 1 from Damascus, 2 from Kwdana and 3 from Busra al Sham). Especially the hit school in Kwdana, which was hit by a missile, fired from a regime jet, is worth a mention, as it is located exactly 693 meters(!) from the ceasefire line “Bravo”, agreed on after the Yom Kippur war (picture). Neither Israel nor the UN transmitted a complaint or stopped the Assad air force from bombing civilian targets that close to the buffer zone.


missile-hit school

Meanwhile in Idlib city, which fell recently under a coalition of several moderate to extremist rebel groups, the Assad regime started a bombing campaign on the civilian infrastructure after losing the important town. While this is seen in all regime-lost cities, the regime decided this time to use an extraordinary sinister tactic of first destroying all hospitals in the city, parallel and before starting to raid more residential areas. In this context, the city’s main “National Hospital” as well as the headquarters of the Syrian Red Cross ( resp. Red Crescent were hit in coordinated strikes on March 30.

national hospital

missile- and barrel bomb-hit hospitals

At the same time, the Assad regime bombs quarters across the city, using jet-fired missiles, helicopter-dropped barrel bombs as well as surface-to-surface missiles, trying to achieve maximum casualties among the civilian population. Many of his barrel bombs are equipped with Chlorine gas canisters to increase the terror for the hit people. Hence, the occurrence of (gas) bombing victims of all religions becomes an increasingly common appearance in the now-free, but hard-hit city (see pictures below).

gas victim

gas victims and canisters

flat destroyed

bomb–hit flat

Last but not least, its must be said that the international reaction to all these WAR CRIMES is zero, talking about other Arab states, being involved in the Yemen campaign as well as Europe and the United States, being busy with reaching  a deal with Assad’s main sponsor Iran. These nuclear negotiations seem to give the “Butcher of Syria” a free ticket to continue his reign and atrocities on a daily basis. But not only he benefits from the international blind eye. Also the “Islamic State” terror group and its sympathisers in European countries profit from the inaction, as it is fueling their narrative of an “idle (or even “supportive”) West while muslims are slaughtered”. In the end, this development will not only lead to more sorrow among the Syrian civilian population (and thus more refugees abroad), but could also fuel anti-Western tendencies among muslims in Europe and thus increase the chance of more IS-related terror attacks like we saw them in Paris and Copenhagen.