Proving Russia’s guilt of the Mariupol massacre – it’s not that difficult!

Today, the aggression versus the Ukrainian people reached a new peak when close to a hundred Grad missiles hit residential eastern neighborhoods of the port city of Mariupol, a hot spot of fighting since Russian army forces invaded the district of Novoazovsk in late August last year and advanced almost until the city limits of Mariupol. 27 Ukrainian civilians (including 2 children) and 1 soldier at a nearby checkpoint were killed plus another 97 civilians injured in what can be described as a deliberately caused massacre of the local civilian population.

But who caused that massacre? The answer is too obvious. Nonetheless, this article points out a 100% reliable blame, leaving no doubt who killed another 27 civilians after the Leninsky and Volnovakha bus attacks over the last days, killing 26 people and clearly bearing the hallmarks of the same criminal regime. At the same time it should be emphasized that it is not rocket science to determine who fired a missile, knowing some technical data of the weapons involved and having an elementary knowledge of the local geopolitical context.

Step 1: Geolocating footage, showing an impact crater

Minutes after the attack occurred, multiple videos appeared on the net, showing burning buildings and damage and some of them also direct impact locations and craters of the used missiles. In just another few minutes, these videos can be geolocated, using widely known open source maps.

impact

Geolocation of the impact

The above example shows how the footage can be affiliated with a an exact location and camera angle. A closer look at the impact gives clear indication of where the missile came from. This should be marked for further analysis.

Step 2: Determining the approach angle

Having done this, it is only a question of knowing how to use a compass to determine the direction of which the impacting projectile came from on a local scale. The camera angle as well as identified fixed objects in the footage / on the connected map give a precise impression of the approach angle of the missile that caused the damage and especially crater in the picture. It came from the east, slightly more than 90 degrees.

direction

approach angle of the missile

Step 3: Providing technical and geopolitical context to the physical facts

The last step is to put the obtained data in context, meaning to lean back and ask what this means in a broader political – and in this case – spatial context. Hence the geopolitical circumstances – the “Who owns what?” – as well as the technical features of the weapon involved must be taken into consideration.

Starting with the technical background, we are talking about a large volley of BM-21 Grad missiles, having an absolute minimum range of 4-5 kilometers, depending on the type. This means the origin of the missiles that hit the area is located at around 5 km (or more) to the east.

Finally, a look at the military-related territorial setting in the surrounding areas brings light into the darkness. The affected area is located on the eastern outskirts of Mariupol and literally “the last line of defense”. Ukrainian army and national guard forces are stationed up to around one kilometer to the east, overlooking an area of maximally 2 further kilometers. After this extends around 2 km of “no-man’s-land”, followed by Russian-held territory stretching on a North-South line, crossing the village of Lebedyns’ke (see map below).

larger map

Strategic map

This area was directly invaded by the Russian army in August 27 last year, transferred to “none-professional” Russian invasion forces and a tiny number of local separatists during several months of the ceasefire and in late December reoccupied by a large Russian army force, preparing and starting an coordinated push with units all other the front since then. Simultaneously, the Russian force accumulated large quantities of weapons like the type of MLRS used in today’s attacks on Mariupol. Weapons which in its mere number and infinite resupply of ammunition can only be provided by a well-orchestrated military and logistic campaign on a national level.

In the end, the answer to the initial question of “Who caused the Mariupol massacre?” can be given with a certainty of 100%, looking at the comprehensive though straightforward analysis above: The armed forces of the Russian Federation. This is just another chapter in its aggressive and inhuman campaign vs. eastern Ukraine and the values of the international community which must be answered immediately and stopped by all available means.

Hard evidence, the regular Russian army invades Ukraine

Over the last 72 hours, increaring reports of regular “Russian army” deployments inside Ukraine emerged, not only from blogging insiders and investigative homepages, but also from the Ukrainian president and army command themselves (a very rare move, despite the widely dominating verbal calming down attempts). Nonetheless, footage to prove such “new” statements was lagging over the first days, a fact, understandable under the current circumstances of the Moscow regime, not willing to uncover its full-scale military invasion into Ukraine. However since yesterday, January 22, several undeniable video sequences from different front sectors across Donbas emerged, undeniably supporting the Ukrainian intelligence reports.

1. The Grad-K in Donetsk

Most bulletproof evidence is the appearance of the most modern Russian army 2B26 Grad-K system mounted on a KamAZ-5350 chassis (pictures below) just a few kilometers from Donetsk airport. This refurbished BM-21 system was revealed in 2011 and delivered to the Russian armed forces from 2012. It is ONLY operated by the Russian army itself and there is no other source of such weapon system available.

Grad-K

The Grad-K in Donetsk

Further details are striking. The systems appears in Donetsk in fresh winter camouflage showing it was prepared for winter war and surely sent in under the current weather conditions. Also the “rebel” camera man pulls down his camera as soon as it leaves the line of 4 older BM-21, mounted on Ural-375D (a system, delivered in its hundreds by the Russian army to its proxies and forces in Donbas). He obviously has the orders to not film such system in that area and that time. However, he lifts it up 4 seconds too early clearing the sight of this 100% Russian army weapon system.

2. The BM-30 Smerch in Makeevka

In the evening of January 22, footage of a BM-30 MLRS system appeared, claimed to be taken in Makeevka, just a few kilometers east of Donetsk and less than 20 km to the nearest frontline. The BM-30 “Smerch” (also known as 9A52-2 Smerch-M) is the heaviest multi launch rocket system (MLRS) in its “family”, exceeding the smaller BM-21 and BM-27 in its caliber (300mm) and range (up to 90 km). Independent geolocations of the footage by several expertes (e.g. Dajey Petros and me) confirmed the the location exactly where it was reported to be, so (very) close to the frontline for a system with such operational range.

BM-30

The BM-300 in Makeevka

The system has never before been recorded in Russian-held territory for a simple reason: It was not there. While the Ukrainian army lost several weapon systems during the created boilers in August and September last year to Russian invaders, the BM-30 was always able to stay far behind the front due to its range and was never captured by “rebel” forces or the vast majority of Russian mercenaries and Russian army forces. Knowing that there is no credible narrative for the appearance of such heavy and exclusive system “in separatist hands”, the Russian invasion command abstained from sending the system to Ukraine over the following 4 “ceasefire” months, despite deploying thousands of other military vehicles like tanks, apc and smaller MLRS. However now that it goes “all in” and started an offensive to take entire Luhansk and Donetsk regions (and even more), the Russian army command decided to not spare this long range, deadly tool of warfare anymore, no matter the fact that this is another 100% evidence, it is fighting in neighboring Ukraine.

3. More proof

There is much more (very) recent evidence that Ukrainian intelligence and all “real” / evidence-based experts are right, calling the latest developments a flagrant and open Russian aggression against its western neighbour. Just like the pictures of Russian Far East soldiers with green ribbon after taking Checkpoint 31 in northern Luhansk region, the secret recording of a 500+ troops Russian Army convoy, approaching the town of Stakhanov or footage of a military makeshift bridge, built by Russian sappers over a river in Luhansk with the help of a MT-55A AVLB. …

But all these “smoking guns” might be disputed and denied as “so or differently explainable”, despite all indication leading into the same (Eastern) direction. Meanwhile the two above mentioned cases, recorded over the last 24 hours, provide sufficient evidence, regular Russian army troops are not just “located all around Donbas, ready to move in” – like acknowledged by many western media and security sources – but fighting on all front sectors inside Ukraine, reinforcing and replacing its pre-existing invasion forces.

PS.

This article only lists NEW evidence that appeared over the last 24 hours and after the statement of Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko in Davos. Of course, multiple Russian-army-only equipment appearances over the last 7 months (T-72B3, T-72B1, BPM-97, GAZ-3937, BTR-82A  etc.) leave no doubt that it was and is the Russian army that exclusively supplies all anti-Ukrainian forces in the Donbas with weapons and exerts its surpreme command over them.

The fall of Donetsk airport – shedding light on the latest developments

After 3 days of complete media blackout from Donetsk airport and one day after Russian invasion forces proved to have captured several Ukrainian troops at the airport, fresh footage from inside the new terminal appeared.This footage leaves no doubt that not only the entire terminal and facility building complex (with the possible exception of the collapsed tower and radar station) are in Russian hands, but also that Russian media and troops can move freely over the apron north of the terminal between the five gates of the former airport, leaving no doubt of not being afraid by any opposing forces close-by.

Airport1

Geolocation of Russian media footage from January 21

safe zone

the situation on January 18

Why can this be said with almost 100% certainty? The last article, dealing with the airport, was written on January 19 and reflected the “who controls what” situation from one day earlier, namely January 18. Looking at the analysis of the different possessions within the building from that day, it becomes clear that only parts of the western and north western front were still held by Ukrainian forces, while most of the terminal was already under Russian control already – proven by lots of footage over the previous days. Latest available footage from Cyborgs within the building ( “playing soccer”) could be located between the very left and second from left gates. This area is entirely under Russian control now, leaving no doubt that there are no Ukrainian soldiers left in the terminal.

Other footage, showing a panorama of the northern gates section of the terminal, adds to the impression that this is no “sneaked” – or even “faked” footage, but reflects the real situation in the area. It was recorded between gate 2 and 3 (from the left) and shows both the destroyed gates with the foggy horizon to the north and two destroyed Ukrainian T-64 plus several more army vehicles, lost due to the extreme shelling and overwhelming ground troop attacks, never short of “human resources” to throw (and sacrifice) into the battle.

gate

Gate 3

tanks

destroyed T-64

It is not totally clear, when the terminal fell completely to Russian troops but the story around the captured Ukrainian troops from yesterday morning seems to give at least some indication. According to the Ukrainian army they were sent to evacuate wounded fellow troops and resupply them with ammunition. However the claim that an incompetent commander “missed the terminal by 800 meters during fog” sounds not very reliable, giving the fact that he only had to follow the taxi ways from Pisky. Instead – sadly – the version some of the captured Ukrainian troops said in Russian confinement sounds slightly more reliable, despite it has to be taken with a pinch of salt. That version claiming to not knowing the situation at the airport plus the claim of Russian invaders that those troops “just ran into us” indicates the formerly described “safe movement zone” (map further above) ceased to exist between January 19 and January 20, despite heaviest artillery, MLRS and tank fire on all Russian positions by the Ukrainian defenders N and N-W of the airport.

But as so often in war, the truth is somewhere in the middle. On January 20, Russian media showed 5 Ukrainian POW and claimed to have killed 6 more, which surely does not mean that this was the force to recapture – or only attack – the airport. The next morning, Russian channels aired footage of captured Ukrainian troops in Donetsk hospitals, suddenly saying, 16 of them are treated for their injuries at the moment. This is speculation of course, but it appears that those “new” captured – dusty and injured – troops might have been the remaining Cyborgs, Ukr troops were to evacuate of reinforce the day before. As no help came, they might have decided to do the only reasonable in the light of the military superiority of the enemy. – Almost all alternatives are much worse. Russian propaganda footage also showed a number of bodies at the taken over terminal, claimed to be Ukrainian troops but without showing proof for that claim …

Whatever really happened, it looks like the last relevant Ukrainian position within the perimeters of Donetsk airport fell between January 19 and January 20 with reinforcements (/suppliers) as well as more troops from inside the terminal going into Russian POW-ship. This means that all Ukrainian claims since then that they are “still in the buildings and the airport” like states in the evening of January 21 are rather propaganda to keep up the moral than fact-based reports. The only position that remains unknown is the one of the airport’s destroyed tower, but not possibly under fire from 270 degrees, it would make little sense to hold that ruin.

Ukrainian forces are not defending, but attacking the airport now, lagging the manpower and general strength to halt or even repulse the Moscow-sent masses with their almost endless stream of mostly crude but deadly weapon systems and ammunition.

The final map shows the situation around Donetsk airport as it might look now according to this assessment. As it is still very fluid – meaning Russian troops could have captured even more right now, especially around Pisky – it reflects the actual state of affairs as it was available in the evening hours of January 21.

map 21.1.2015

Map based on assessment – 21.1.2015

This article is not about putting blame on anyone for the current military development. Only so much be said: The way, the Ukrainian government and army is leading the war at the moment – it is losing it and with it large parts of Ukraine itself.

The Russian army offensive in northern Luhansk region – Day 1

As if the recent (almost) defeat of the Ukrainian army in the battle for Donetsk airport wasn’t enough, the Russian invasion command in Moscow once again decided to pile the pressure on its western neighbor by starting its long-awaited offensive along the Bakhmutka highway in Luhansk oblast in the early hours of January 20.

In the end, this move didn’t came as a surprise. Around noon of January 19, the Ukrainian government decided for the first time since August 2014 to call a duck a duck as it observed almost 1000 Russian army troops – two tactical task forces in battalion size – crossing the Russian-Ukrainian border in eastern Luhansk region. The invasion force, seen entering Ukraine by its intelligence services, was too big to be described as “foreign-backed terrorists”, a term usually used by the peace and calm-seeking Ukrainian government to not further provoke Russia into more aggressive steps. Shortly after, the track of the two battalions was lost, but it became obvious that they were not approaching Donetsk city where fighting is fierce, but due to the steady flow in manpower and weapons, slow but steady Russian advances could be seen since the start of the latest offensive on January 1st. Also possible reinforcements for the Donetsk forces would probably have entered Ukraine from border points closer to the main invasion base, still active 50 km south of the border. Entering via Izvaryne would have been a detour.

So it came as it was bound to happen. In the early morning hours of January 20, dozens of artillery pieces opened fire on “Checkpoint 31”, located on the junction of the so-called “Bakhmutka highway” – a road leading from Luhansk city to the larger northern towns of the region – and the small road T1317, connecting Russian-held Frunze, just 3 km south, with the strategical village of Krymske on the bank of the river Seversky-Donets, the natural borderline between Russian- and Ukrainian-held Luhansk region. The artillery fire lasted for 6 hours, beating down the Ukrainian troops manning the (frontline) checkpoint. But it was just the beginning. Shortly after artillery became silent, eight Russian army tanks came down the road from Luhansk and pounded the checkpoint, forcing the Ukrainian defenders to retreat along the T1317 north towards Krymske and T1303 towards the west. Reports say, Russian forces also attacked from Frunze, but this is not confirmed. Only known “footage” (sounds) of the entire attack comes from a “(New-)Russian” media channel, showing the “emergency evacuation” of civilians from nearby Frunze during the assault.

Around the same time the direct attack on Checkpoint 31 started, Russian army forces with armored vehicles and ground forces also attacked the village of Zholobok, 7 km to the west, from nearby Donets’kyi. The aim of this attack seemingly was to cut the withdrawal path of retreating troops from CP31 and to attack CP29, which lies just north east of Zholobok, halting it from sending reinforcements to the east. According to the Ukrainian army, several attacking forces at this battle were destroyed and the army lost the village but managed to regroup at nearby CP29 and is still holding the position. The overall attack on both sectors of the front was – according to Ukrainian observers on the ground – not only the the obvious expansion of the Russian-held territory along the strategic highway, but also the encirclement of Krymske in the north, baring Russian forces from further advances along the Severskyi-Donets so far.

The below situation map summarizes the battles that took place today to the best of my knowledge and information. Blue marks previously Ukrainian-held territory, read, Russian held, arrows attack directions and orange the newly occupied area according to my (informed) estimate.

bakhmutka

In the evening of January 20, two things are clear:

Checkpoint 31 and most probably also Zholobk are still held by regular Russian army forces while the Ukrainian defense ministry says, it is fighting back at the moment, trying to regain control of the lost territory and especially CP31. These attempts were not successful until midnight and the NSDC spox already announced that IF the army would continue the fight or pull back would be up to its command, putting further doubt into its abilities to withstand the superior Russian army units. Astonishingly, also until January 21 local time, the Ukrainian army did not decide to use its air forces against the self-proclaimed Russian army offensive, 70 kilometers from the common border…

At the same time, partly confirmed reports of further three Russian army task force groups (each 300-500 men and equipment) waiting to enter Izvaryne or already inside Ukraine and on the way to Luhansk emerged in the evening of January 20. Their sighting plus the confirmed first overwhelming victories (described above) are unambiguous signs, Russia’s thirst for more Ukrainian soil under the pretext of saving “its ethnic population” is by far not satisfied yet and the worst in terms of military aggression is yet to come.

 

Important sources of battle details

Who controls what of Donetsk airport – a clarification attempt

On January 15, the Russian invasion army’s “final push” started on the – until then – Ukrainian army and volunteer forces-held Terminal one and the airport’s control tower. Since then, the war for the airport es escalating. On the ground and regarding the information who controls what. While the Russian side claim, it controls the entire terminal since January 16, the Ukrainian administration claims, it “repelled” all attacks and “holds the terminal”. So one side lies?! Not sure as the truth mostly is located somewhere in the middle – or in this case: in different parts of the large terminal complex. Later more on this.

Since the start of fighting action inside the terminal, I am trying to make sense of the video material coming out of the building, trying to verify reports and claims of both sides. Doing this, it is not as easy as many pro-Ukrainian “experts” claim, saying: “Russia always lies. Their media is a pure propaganda tool” or even “This cannot be the terminal as the Ukrainian army holds it, according to its statements.” – Of course: Russia lies! They transport their propaganda in every second they report from and of occupied Donbas. But the sheer existence of footage from certain areas and locations proves that there is a true core in what they claim from a very basic, almost “physical” point of view, meaning: When you report from the terminal and prove this with – meanwhile – hours of footage in 5 days, you are in the terminal, no matter what your or the opposing propaganda makes our of your claims. Having said this, I can and must use all available footage from the area instead of believing what either side claims to explore the current situation and who controls what of Donetsk airport. And when 95% of that footage is from the Russian side, I will mostly use it, no matter its origin and propaganda purpose (as for the reasons I pointed out above). So this analysis is an attempt, based on as much footage and recent evidence as possible, without having the guarantee to be entirely correct.

The situation around Terminal 1 – in my informed estimate – looked as follows yesterday afternoon, January 18 2015 (Red: Russian-held, Blue: Ukrainian-held.)

now

Situation around Donetsk airport terminal 1 in the afternoon hours of January 18, 2015

Most of the area is held be Russian forces, namely “Battalion Spartak” – Russian army forces with some paid mercenaries from Russia and very few Ukrainian-born fighters-  under the leader of terrorist “Motorola”. This includes – of course – the entire ruin of terminal 2 and even the apron in front of it but also the car park used as a bridgehead for Russian BTR-80 to bring new troops and ammunition to the terminal itself, almost hourly (see image below).

car park

The “bridgehead” car park of Donetsk airport.

However, the Russian-held area also includes most of the new terminal building itself, including the entrance area, the main airport hall, the entire eastern front facing terminal 2, the front area overlooking the gates as well as parts of the logistical facilities inside including the luggage transport section. (Please click on all links to see tweets with pictures proving those claims over the last 3 days.) On January 17, the Russian invasion army even regarded the northern terminal side next to the gates as safe enough to bring terrorist “DNR” leader Zakharchenko in, the possible highest profile target for Ukrainian authorities. While it can be argued that he surely was under the threat of being hit by Ukrainian artillery inside the terminal, under no condition would Russian have moved him inside it if there was the danger of armed confrontation with Ukrainian troops inside it. So they were VERY certain this would not be the case.

zakharchenko

Zakharchenko in the terminal on January 17

So do they control “all of it” as they claim?Surely not. There are 3 reasons speaking against that allegation:

1. There is one piece of footage, posted by the defending Ukrainian “Cyborgs”, playing soccer inside the terminal area from January 16. Indeed this footage is 3 days old and a quick geolocation shows, it is recorded in the outer North Western ground floor of the termminal. However, it proves that at least 1 day after Russians claimed the terminal was fully taken, this was not the case. No video from ins

2. On January 15, Russians posted footage from all sides of the terminal, also looking out of the western front, recording shelling of the Donetsk airport tower. Since then no such footage appeared on the net. Also no other evidence, they are still in control of the western part of the building. This could mean, the Ukrainian army indeed “repelled” the Russian offensive in this part of the terminal around January 16, securing the crucial safe corridor to reinforce and resupply its defending forces in the western part of the complex. However, this is all it achieved, afterwards inflating this tiny success to a “full control” in its PR campaign… The January 19-created map below shows not only who holds what according to my analysis, but also “safe movement zones”, saying a lot about who controls which frontage and is able to fire from it and cover its area. Hence, these “safe zones” are not safe from medium range artillery and MLRS fire, but from direct enemy fire from the nearby buildings.

safe zone

“safe zones”

As it can be seen on the map, Russian forces as well as Ukrainian forces seem to have safe movement zones via which they are able to resupply / reinforce their forces and evacuate the injured – leading to the last point proving Ukrainian forces are still holed up in a small part of the terminal:

3. There are casualties among them. This point might sound odd at the first moment, but becomes clearer thinking about it. Ukrainian forces suffer multiple casualties inside the terminal which means they are still there. Just yesterday, 14 Cyborgs were injured inside it and evacuated under the cover of darkness this night, according to the Ukrainian NSDC. Over 50 were killed and injured over the last 5 days. Of course, one could argue that to save the appearance of an Ukrainian presence inside it, it could artificially “move” those casualties into the terminal from other locations, but this seems very unlikely as several volunteer activists confirm such dangerous MEDEVAC operations.

So what to make out of it?

According to my analysis, Russian forces control 90% of the terminal right now plus the entire southern and eastern surroundings of the mostly destroyed building. At the same time, Ukrainian Cyborgs are holed up in a small ground section in the north west of the terminal, still having a heavily embattled resupply line thanks to massive own artillery support and the inability of Russian artillery in Spartak and elsewhere to hits that part of the terminal.

At the same time, this situation didn’t change largely over the last 4 days of heavy fighting. Russians couldn’t oust last defenders from the terminal and Ukrainians were unable to recapture significant parts of it let alone the strategically important surrounding areas and facilities. – If the last 5 months of fighting proves anything then “Who is in the terminal stays in the terminal.” and can only be ousted by months of heaviest artillery and missile shelling as well as massive own casualties (the Russian lost at least 500 men before being able to enter it). The last days showed that this is also valid for Ukrainian counterattack attempts. As a consequence, the current development must be seen as another military setback for the Ukrainian army and the government’s strategy to hold the frontline never mind to “recapture Donbas” or just the entire airport as president Poroshenko promised yesterday.

It remains to see if the situation is really as “fluent” as many analysts claim since almost 4 days and territorial changes in and outside the terminal will appear in the short term. This article was an attempt to make sense out of what it looks at this moment and not even now as things MIGHT have changed overnight after massive clashes yesterday evening. Still it should be seen as a “situation mark”, from which further reasoning can start without falling into the trap of propaganda and inflated claims by either side involved in the conflict.

Six questions answered about the Russian invasion army’s new “air force”

Reports of the establishment of  a Russian invasion army’s air force being the making are circulating since several weeks now, but today (January 18, 2015) Russian news channel “Russia-24” posted first footage of what is described as the “air force of the People’s Republic of Luhansk”. This article answers the main questions about that new air force and assesses its threat to Ukrainian towns and military infrastructure now and in the future.

1. Where is the air force’s base located?

Footage can be traced back the the former training airfield of the Voroshilovgrad Air Navigators Academy, part of the 17th air army of the Soviet Union. The base is located just south east of Luhansk city, some 12 km north of Luhansk’s “new” airport which was entirely destroyed during the Russian invasion in late August and early September.

base location

Base location

The airfield was established in the 1940s and used to train pilots on L-29 until 1967. After that it was used as an air academy, teaching “the art of flying” on the ground. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the academy was operated further by Ukraine until 1997 when it was closed. Since then, the “Luhansk Aerodrome” serves as a military aircraft museum and is officially listed on travel guides into the region. It contains more than 50 planes and helicopters, including small fighter jets up to large Il-76 freighter aircraft. Until recently, details on the museum were available via the official homepage http://avia-museum.lg.ua/ but it is out of order since several months. Now we know why.

museum

Avia museum

2. What airplanes does the air force consist of?

According to Russia-24, the air force consists of “several L-29 trainer aircraft, several Su-25 as well as helicopters of various modifications”. However, footage only shows one seemingly operational L-29 Delfín (NATO reporting name “Maya”), maneuvering on the airfield. It is not seen in the air in the available footage. However, it can be assumed that it is fully operational, seeing its instruments remastered and the entire aircraft in a good shape. At the same time this jet was build between 1961 and 1967 and used until ’67 for training missions at the “Air Navigators Academy”.

Unbenannt

L-29 Delfín

No other planes “in active service” are shown while one interesting report some days before the official publication of the article and footage said one more Su-25 is currently remastered in a hangar of the air field. Furthermore, footage shows the operational L-29 being driven into one of the hangars to save it from the weather (and possibly feared Ukrainian strikes?!).

hangar

No operational helicopters nor attempts to revive them are portrayed in the Russian media footage. So in conclusion it is fair to assume that there is currently only one active aircraft in the air force of the “People’s Republic of Luhansk” with one more being remastered at the moments and possibly ready to fly soon.

3. Has Russia its hands in it?

Of course. Several aspects serve as strong indication for that.

First, the news report claims that there is sufficient “fuel delivered to the airfield” and there is only one source of the needed fuel as neither the “LC” nor the “DNR” has aircraft fuel at its disposal. All possible reserves of it have been used by the Ukrainian air force or destroyed around Donetsk and Luhansk airports in recent fighting.

fuel

Russian fuel, arriving in Luhansk

Second, it is natural that to fly airplanes, you need pilots. The article refers to them as “volunteers who received flight training in the Soviet time”. This clarification is interesting as it raises the question why these pilots have not been active during the last 25 years and what they have done since then. Also the – possibly desired – narrative of “former Ukrainian pilots” or “Ukrainian volunteers” is not used, but the only reference is given to the CCCP. One of the pilots is named as  Aram Avakian, however his origin remains unknown so far.

pilot

pilots

4. Are there any other working air bases in Russian-occupied Donbas?

Yes. On October 8, news appeared that the small Tarasivka air field had been revived by Russian invasion forces. One of the two Yak-52 there-stationed could be seen flying over the field with the first ever message of being “Nororossiya’s new air force”.

yak-52

In occupied Luhansk region, no other smaller air fields are know. A big question mark remains over the official airport of Luhansk, some 20 km south of the city. While latest available satellite pictures show the airport widely destroyed and its runway blocked on August 31, it – if repaired – would be the first choice for Russian reinforcements landing and possible fighter jets departing. However the question of eventual Russian efforts in this regard can not be answered before either new satellite pictures or footage from the area comes up.  At the same time, there are no known airfields operational or aircraft flying over the territory of the Donetsk region, despite the existence of some smaller strips. Donetsk airport remains in the focus of fighting and the runway seems to be badly damaged, making air traffic impossible – even in the case of a real ceasefire – for months, no matter who controls it.

5 How big is the current(!) threat of the Russian invasion army’s air force

Right now, the threat is not that big. If the conclusions from the latest footage are correct, there is curently one Yak-52 and one L-29 operational in the “LC’s” air force, which is not very concerning from a military point of view. Both aircraft are unarmed, so even if Russia would deliver arms to upgrade them, it would need some more work to refurbish them in a way that would make them able to use these weapon systems. Hence, the Russian report’s claim that the currently established “LC” “Air support [is] a very important thing.” can be regarded as an empty phrase.

6. How is the prospect?

However this “low risk assessment” for the very current situation can change within hours or days and the foundation of a dangerous – fit for fatal action – air force was already or is being established at the very moment. Russian invaders’ would not publish news of such crucial development if they didn’t know how to use and exploit them.

At the one hand, the Russian army was – with very few exceptions – not willing to deploy its own air force inside Ukraine or supply “rebels” (its invasion forces) with used fighter jets or helicopters like the Mil Mi-24 which would make a big advantage for them in the battle for Donbas.

At the other hand, the current report opens all doors for such support in the future. The Russia-24 article mentions at very first “The [50+ year old] runway is cleared”, being available for landings and take offs from now on. This is a sign for possible outside help, being expected at any point in the future. Moreover, the article – and the “militants” at the base – claim that “several” Su-25 are made over right now. True or not, this claim lays the foundation of Su-25 indeed popping up at the now active air base at some point, either really refurbished or driven in by trucks from Russia in parts and being fully assembled at the base. Under this pretext another possibility is that Russian air force aircraft will simply invade from Russian bases, now that th “LC” has an air force, and attack Ukrainian targets, disguised as the “LC air force”. These Sukhoi ground attack fighter jets – if present at the base as already announced today – would be a real challenge and a possible game changer in the war for Donbas. Therefore today’s announcement of the “establishment of the Luhansk People’s Republic air force” should be taken as seriously as possible and military consequences for such appearance in the near future should be drawn already today.

The inevitable – Russian troops enter the last Ukrainian stronghold at Donetsk airport

“The situation is under control” –  this phrase was used by the Ukrainian government/army:

in September when the attack began and Russian forces took all hangar buildings,

in October, when they seized Terminal 2 for several times,

in November, when Russian shelling and destruction mounted,

in December, when Terminal 2 were handed over to the invasion army peacefully and Russians took up perfect offensive positions beside Terminal 1,

on January 5 when Ukrainian intelligence services announced fresh  Russian army formations arrived to surround and take the airport as the top priority,

on January 12, when new Russian ground forces showed up in Terminal 2, announcing to do exactly that,

on January 13, when the badly damaged tower collapsed under intense artillery and tank fire in the morning and Ukrainian troops stopped a first Chechen infantry push in the basement of the last Ukrainian-held terminal in the evening

AND on January 15 – today – when Russian invasion forces finally stormed the terminal and are fighting Ukrainian troops inside it since 7 hours now.

The situation is NOT under control. It is out of control since the Minsk agreement, which has NEVER been a mutual ceasefire as agreed on, but always an unilateral truce, only adhered to by the Ukrainian side. Nobody should be surprised now. Russian invasion forces didn’t attack Terminal 1 by surprise, they advance since 5 months. Every month. Steadily and without major setbacks. This development was observed and well-documented by dozens of analysts and – of course – also by the Ukrainian army, which lost its freedom of movement / building after building / man after man in the area of the airport since September last year. However for a reason that can only be called deliberate blind appeasement policy, the Ukrainian leadership decided to let Russian forces advance over a period of about 130 days, pretending “the situation is under control”, which now should be clear to everyone, it is not.

At the same time, president Poroshenko connected the defense of the airport inseparable with the defense of entire Ukraine, saying December 5 that the defense of Donetsk airport actually is the defense of Kiev and Lviv. Losing the airport means losing Ukraine. Knowing this, it is even less understandable why he accepted the Russian advance for the last 5 months, without implementing any forceful countermeasure.

So his afternoon, the inevitable happened. Under intense tank fire from Spartak and Vesele plus artillery and mortar support from all across Donetsk city and Makeevka, Russian infantry forces stormed the ground floor of Terminal 1, coming from nearby Terminal 2. Remember that this 50 meters away building was transferred from Ukrainian to Russian troops peacafully in early December as it was allegedly “destroyed and not usable as a strategic position” anymore. Another misjudgment, obviously.

old new

Russian troops, walking from the old into the new terminal without resistance.

While the actual attack was not caught on camera, Russian TV published first images shortly after, showing its forces controlled practically the entire second floor of Terminal 1, offering views into all four cardinal directions. Parts of the apron, the car park, the destroyed tower and Terminal 2 are clearly visible in the footage as can be seen below. At the same time, Ukrainian forces in or near the airport reported they also fought invasion units of “battalion size” (so more than 300 soldiers) that entered the basement and the 3rd floor. Indeed Russian TV footage showed them changing levels inside the terminal, looking all across the large entrance hall of the terminal and firing up and down stairs within the building. Last but not least to enter the 2nd floor as the Ukrainian government confirmed, they must have passed the ground floor and 1st floor at some point. So in conclusion it is fair to say, battles between Ukrainian forces and Russian invaders took place all across Terminal 1 at the afternoon of January 15.

all directions

Views to all sides

 

But Russian troops were not just inside the Terminal. The nearest possible Ukrainian defense position is located at the ruins of the tower buildings, some 870 meters to the west. Russian tanks and ground troops moved all along south of Terminal 1, passing it and coming in a position to fire at the remains of the tower from that range. This way, they could cut Ukrainian reinforcements from Pisky and the tower – at least for a while.

tower

Russian T-64, firing at the tower ruins.

 

At 21:00 that day, one of the defenders announced via Facebook that over the afternoon and evening they were able to “take up positions in all floors” again with the help of arriving reinforcements. Moreover artillery ran off the attacking tanks and they could evacuate their dead and wounded (at least 2 KIA, 7 WIA). However the message included the famous phrase that should cause everybody to be terrified of the next days: “The situation is under control.”*

 

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* respectively: “The situation is more or less stabilized.”

A deadly chain reaction – making sense of the Volnovakha bus massacre

In the early afternoon hours of January 13, one of the most deadly single incidents during the Russian aggression in southern and eastern Ukraine hit a bus near a police / border guards checkpoint at the northern outskirts of the Ukrainian city of Volnovakha.

Shortly after the tragedy, a (graphic!) video appeared on YouTube, being widely assumed as the main evidence to find out, what happened to the bus and – the main question – who caused that massacre on innocent civilians. However, different versions of sense making appeared, seemingly contradicting each other. One of a Russian-fired missile or artillery round, hitting the area around the checkpoint and causing the carnage, published by pro-Ukrainian analysts; one of an Ukrainian mine, hitting the bus, leading to the senseless deaths; published by pro-Russian activists. Since then the two factions are confronting each other with their evidence, blaming the other side of lying. This short article argues that both are partly right and there is common ground between them, explaining the massacre.

Within a couple of hours, interpretermag published a report, convincingly illustrating that a rocket or artillery round, fired from the Russian-held Dokuchajevsk area to the north east, hit just right of the bus, causing the disaster (image below). Both the impact crater and the damage on the ground support this argument, which can not be refuted.

version1

Source: The Interpreter, analysis by Dajey Petros

Shortly after, a pro-Russian side published a report based on the same video, pointing out that the bus was very close to an Ukrainian mine field, an Ukrainian soldier could be seen, carrying and anti-personal mine just outside the bus and typical fragments of an Ukrainian-used MON-50 mine could be seen between the blood of the victims inside the hit vehicle (images below). The three aspects, despite not supporting the official Ukrainian version of the events, must be taken into account, trying to understand what caused the bloodbath.

Making sense of it all: From a fact-based analytical perspective, all surrounding circumstances must be considered, no matter of the political alignment. In this regard, both version are supported by facts and no obvious manipulation can be seen from my understanding. Hence the question arises, if both version are true and a combination of different fatal weapons – used by Russian invaders and placed by Ukrainian defenders – led to the deaths of 13 innocent people with several more still fighting for their lives in hospitals.

From all available data (video footage only, not statements by either side), it appears that the Russian-fired impacting shell hit the mine field to the right side of the bus, triggering a chain reaction by causing one or more of the there-put MON-50 to explode. Not in the intended direction – away from the street – but due to the impact power right towards the passing by bus, causing a catastrophe. Thus, BOTH, fragments of the Grad missile / artillery round AND of the thrown-up mines hit the bus in a totally uncontrolled manner, causing the visible damage, which could be seen in the aftermath footage. The subsequent analytical display portrays what could have happened within seconds yesterday afternoon, leading to imminent mass casualties. This conclusion seems most convincing as it includes all available evidence from the scene.

missile+mine

Source: own creation, based on Bing Maps

So who is to blame? The answer is obvious: The Russian side. They fired towards the checkpoint, knowingly that civilian vehicles would be queueing there, waiting to be checked before leaving / entering Volnovakha. By firing at the Ukrainian government checkpoint, they approved civilian casualties, once again showing their total disrespect for innocent human life and the “rules of war”.

At the same time, it must be concluded that the Ukrainian side unnecessarily tried to cover up that not only an incoming projectile, but mainly the accidentally triggered MON-50 mines (caused by the intentionally fired shell of course!) hit the chassis of the passing bus, causing 13 deaths. Ukrainian troops removed some of the mines – also simply to be safe during the rescue and recovery operation – and the Ukrainian government version doesn’t mention any mines involved in the tragedy. This behavior is – as I said – absolutely unnecessary and contraproductive as it produces doubt about the version where all moral arguments about the blame are on the Ukrainian side.

In conclusion, what we saw yesterday was another unprovoked act of violence vs. civilians by Russian terrorist and army forces, willing to advance at any cost. The Volnovakha bus massacre was caused by its deliberate actions vs. Ukrainian-held territory, leading to a deadly chain of reactions which killed 12 more Ukrainians in the Russian-led war.

Update #1

As many experts argue, I am wrong with my analysis, I took another look at the only known Grad impact location in the field and the location and external damage at the bus at this time. The missile impacted at least 10 meters from the bus, hitting deep into the snow with most of its energy. I see no chance, it caused the visible damage at the bus and plus 12 deaths inside it. There must have been secondary blasts, caused by triggered / hurled up mines, to cause such damage and casualty picture.

Unbenannt

bus-impact distance

PS: In the end, I can not say, which kind of mines were placed in the field, MON-50 or – maybe more convincing – other sorts of contact mines. However what I can say is that the official version (one Grad missile hit) does not add up.

Update #2

Meanwhile, more footage appeared and I did some more analyzing of the already known material.

At first, I took another look at the impact site yesterday. If the Grad missile really hit the area from an N-NE angle – and nobody doubts that – its main force should have gone to the S-SW. The impact area confirms this and shows that  most of the snow was burned in that direction, indicating that also most of the impact and explosive energy of the missile must have been directed towards this angle (picture below).

angle

impact direction towards S-SW

At the same time, the bus is located 7-10 meters to the N-E of the impact crater and only little snow is burned in that direction before and after the little mound on the side of the street. So IF the buse was hit by the main force of the missile, which would have been necessary to cause such carnage, it should have been some more meters down the road to directly “drive into” the main blast direction. A look at its front shows that this is not the case.

front

undamaged bus front

Thus, it must be assumed that the bus stood exactly where it was filmed when it was hit, so to the right of the main blast energy of the impacting Grad. A last look at the bus illustrates that the damage is not the same all over, but different zones show a different degree of external damage (image below). The “what cause what” mark is just an estimate of course. The main point is that such damage is very unusual for being caused by a Grad that hit a snowy field, 7-10 meters in a 90° angle to its impact. It is almost unthinkable that 20+ people got killed and injured by the Grad blast. The tree shows also blast damage, which could well be from the exploding missile. However this tree is only 1-2 meters away from the impact site, while the buse is located further away. In conclusion: It remains hard to believe the missile alone caused 12 deaths inside the bus, despite exploding too far away and not being “directed” towards the affected bus.

bus tree

bus damage

Last but not least, a video appeared, showing the Grad attack on the checkpoint that caused the deaths. Althoug the camera is directed towards the north and only captures the shadow of he bus blast, it contains an interesting detail. The missiles that hit nearest to the base – also close to the street and near the trees – possibly caused the same as what I am pointing to on the other side of the base, namely a secondary blast by a mine, located close to where the missile hit. While all other missiles – also impacting in the middle of the street – caused dark shallow smoke, this one caused a bright flash up in the trees accompanied by upgoing white smoke in addition to the black one. Althoug the images are blurry and no final conlusions can be drawn, this could be the precedent that makes my interpretation of the events yet a bit more likely.other blasts

All according to plan – Russia’s winter war was foreseeable

Many analysts an – much worse – seemingly also the Ukrainian government were surprised by the recent surge in violence in eastern Ukraine while most western media branches have not even noticed that Russia took its war against Ukraine to a new level with an unprecedented “increase in number and intensity of attacks” (the Ukr army).

Several number confirm that observation. While the first shaky weeks of the Minsk “ceasefire” in September saw between 30 and 40 attacks per day, that number reduced to around 10 (/day) in November and December last year. First analysts thought president Poroshenko’s appeasement policy towards Russia bore fruit, but during the first week of January, the Ukrainian army recorded once again around 40 attacks per day. This number increased more and more, reaching 50 and stands at more than 60 per day right now.

Another indication of the recent surge in anti-Ukrainian military violence is the number of Ukrainian army casualties. On December 9 2014, Petro Poroshenko proudly announced that the last 24 hours had seen not a single Ukrainian army casualty, seemingly supporting his “We stop shooting, they will follow” policy. But things turned out to be developing in the utter opposite direction. A new Russian offensive, starting on New Year’s day 14/15 brought more than a hundred Ukrainian military casualties, with the 48 hours from January 8 to 10 resulting in 34 dead in injured only to have just one example.

During the last days, the number of attacks became simply too high to count and the incidents are impossible to distinguish from each other, though, I tried as this “one-evening-MLRS-target-map” from the northern Luhansk front shows.

northernfront

Russian MLRS and artillery attacks on the eve of January 11

Instead the entire Ukrainian front in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions is under intense attack of all kinds of weapons, mainly heavy ones like tank, heavy artillery, Grad missiles and even BM-27 Uragan, which are might MLRS with a highly destructive potential. In one word, what we see since the last 2 weeks is not just an “extreme deterioration of the situation”, but war, simple as that.

But was this development really so unforeseeable?

At least two facts, one clearly visible, one invisible until very recently, show that this is nothing of the sort of a “sudden rise in violence” or an “unexpected flare in attacks” like many experts want to make us believe. Instead, I argue, this whole process goes exactly according to a precisely scheduled plan by the warmongers in the Kremlin, which are not at their target situation in Ukraine yet.

1. The obvious prologue

Everybody could see the influx of tens of thousands of Russian “volunteers” (paid mercenaries) and army personal. This did not happen during the last 2 or 4 weeks or under any serious cover, but at since late October and in brought daylight.

In late October, the first some hundred “little green men” showed up in Donetsk city, widely reflected by the online community and the Russian mainstream media.

donetsk

At November 1 for example, hundreds of – obvious – Russian troops with modern equipment showed up in Luhansk, parading through the city and openly declaring it under their control from then on (picture). These troops were strenghtened and spread throughout other cities, for example Krasnyi Luch where they showed up on December 12 with an even larger military parade.

luhansk

Shortly after on November 10, more heavy Russian army armor – T-72B1 – showed up on the streets of Donetsk, at a time, the Minsk agreement demanded “pro-Russian forces” to withdraw exactly these weapons from the buffer zone.

tanks

There are many more examples, also from as early as September when a 100+ Russian army KamAZ and heavy artillery convoy reached Donetsk city over several days. One more example is to be called as it seemed so unreal at this point that most analysts just went over it. In late November, an entire (Russian) army under the flag of “Novorossiya” and marked with Soviet CCCP signs waited at Ukraine’s eastern border – inside Russia!! – ready to invade. It obviously did shortly after.

cccp

In conclusion, no one could say in early December that Russia had not literally shouted, “We prepare for war inside Ukraine!” while some optimists – like me – still had another theory, seeing the invasion of thousands of Russian troops bright-eyed. But this hope – that Russia sent regular soldiers to calm down the situation and stop “rogue” militias from attacking Ukrainian soil  – was dead wrong. It sent them to control each and every anti-Ukrainian fighter, match them to one force under one command and be more fit for the decisive battle which would start 2 months later.

2. The invisible prologue

Analyzing the military hardware inside the Russian invasion base in Russia’s Rostov region, there was one thing that puzzled me for several days. Between the different battle groups were a number of white spots, which I found hard to identify for quite some time (picture below, exact position on a map).

winter

First, I thought those were tents as they have the same color as them of them inside the base, but a second look confirmed, those are army vehicles. After several discussions with other analysts, we still had no real clue. Neither the idea that those were the “aid convoy” trucks nor “MC – Russian peacekeeping” vehicles was quite convincing. The aid trucks enter Ukraine officially and don’t have to “hide” at such – formerly semi-secret – base and Russia – after some public mulling – decided to not play the MC (“peacekeeping”) card in Ukraine. Then finally, the bitter truth filtered through.

After @DajeyPetros spot and my analysis of the Russian invasion base, I read an article by the AAAS, confirming the base was established around March 2014 – a date, I could not confirm as I just knew, it was developed after October 2013. At this time – 5 months before the Russian army invasion in Eastern Ukraine in late August – thousands of troops and hundreds of weapon systems were prepared to be deployed inside the neighboring country – all according to a much larger plan and while the world looked at Crimea.

So for what could these white vehicles – 90% sure BMP and BTR  – be positioned there in October (the date of the satellite image) or even earlier?! … WINTER WAR!

And guess, what showed up shortly after – far too earlier, because long before prepared and not prepared for a late-starting winter – in Luhansk and Donetsk regions?! Correct. White-colored BTR and BMP. Moscow planned its escalating – or at least at no point cutting back – winter offensive inside Ukraine far in advance, probably just after the August offensive, in any case well before October 2014

bmp

left: BMP-2 in Donetsk, right: BTR-80 in Luhansk

What does all this tell us? What we see is sufficient evidence that Russia never had the plan to halt aggressive operations in eastern Ukraine – especially not this winter, which will probably hold for the next 2 months in Donbas. Its offensive capacities in manpower and equipment were very openly built up during the last 3 months all across the occupied territory and the base satellite images reveal that it planned what it did in March for August and in October for January – now. What we see in eastern Ukraine is nothing like “sudden” or “unexpected” developments, but an escalation of warfare and offensive operations within the plot of a master plan. It is going all according to Kremlin’s plan, developed long ago and – at least 50% – announced to Ukraine and the world since October 2014 at latest. Saying, we are “surprised” now shows either very limited foresight or dishonestly to itself and its people.

Making sense of the latest Russian offensives in eastern Ukraine

This morning, the Ukrainian army reported that the number of Russian invasion forces attacks “over the last day” stood at 50 in total. Such a figure was not reached since the Minsk agreement took effect in early September last year. 4 Ukrainian soldiers were killed during these 24 hours, and another 8 injured. At the same time, 2 civilians were killed and 8 injured in Donetsk city due to shelling over the same period of time, according to the city administration.

While over the last 4 months of the Minsk “ceasefire” and the Ukrainian-called in “silence mode” from December 9, the number of daily Russian attacks never fell below 5 and in average stood at 10-20 per day, 50 is a new peak and the final proof that the current appeasement policy by the Ukrainian government, namely the September 5 and 19 “truce” and the December 9 “silence mode”, are not working. However beyond that doubtless admission, the question arises, what the strategical aim of these attacks could be and why Russia is willing to turn up the heat again despite the fact, its territorial gains inside Ukraine are not challenged and it could consider itself satisfied with the strip of land, it has brought under its control so far.

A – meanwhile – good indicator for the daily spatial allocation of the Russian aggression is the situation map, published with daily updates by the Ukrainian defense ministry. After months of showing a far too “optimistic” picture, it is now quite accurately filled with most recent information and, despite missing some attacks, a good foundation for a more detailed analysis.

This is today’s map:

map_8.1.

ATO map, showling the situation in the Donbas between January 8 and 9

At a first glance, the large number of “locations of combat” – indicated by the small orange explosions – along the front strikes the eye. While an exact count of those little “blast” symbols is not possible, it is fair to say, that their number is well below 50, showing the difficulty that comes with such sources. However what can be seen is that those symbols indicating fighting are ranged along the border between the Russian-held and the “liberated” Ukrainian territory with some dots being further inland, signaling long distance weapons fire.

The following map is an – informed – strategic assessment of those “locations of combat” (also known as “Russian assault target areas”), dividing the entire territory into four combat zones. Doing this, it becomes possible to make sense of these dozens of attacks, assigning them to possible mid- and long term in strategic goals of the Russian invasion army. What becomes visible are four main theaters starting with the “Kalmius offensive” in the south, the “Donetsk airport campaign” in the west, operation “Closing the gap” in the center and the “Northern expansion” in the north. These four offensives will be discussed in the following paragraphs, trying to understand what could be Russia’s purpose by leading them.

Map

ATO zone, devided into Russian campaigns, January 8-9

The Kalmius offensive

After invading southern Donetsk region in late summer last year, Russian forces quickly advanced via Novoazovask and Telmanove towards the west. Not the Ukrainian army, but a natural barrier, the river Kalmius slowed down their advance, giving retreating Ukrainian security forces the time they needed to build a line of defense -behind the river. Between September an December 2014, Russian forces mainly attacked the towns and villages east and north east of Mariupol, but only very rarely the wide strip of land between the coastal town and Starobasheve.

 

kalmius

The Kalmius river attack area

This changed on January 3rd, when Russian invasion forces started using heavy weapons like artillery, tanks and multi launch rocket systems to launch attacks on several towns right along the river as well as Ukr-held towns and villages behind it, serving as resupply bases or simply resting areas for Ukrainian troops – and homes to thousands of civilians. These attacks intensified over the last week, expanding not only to indirect fire, but also to actual crossings of the river and attemps to flank Ukrainian troops, taking Hranitne, one of the few towns with a bridge across the Kalmius. Several Russian troops were killed during these attempts. Nonetheless, during the last 2 days, this offensive was even intensified with a double-digit number of attacks between January 8 and 9.

 

Attacking the Kalmius river (Minsk demarcation line) on the entire front bears several strategic advantages for an invasion army, not feeling bound to any signed treaties. During August and September 2014, it attempted to directly attack Mariupol, which didn’t work due to a strong buildup in Ukrainian army and National Guard troops. Later, they tried to bypass the city with the aim to encircle it, some 5-10 km north. This also miscarried. By broadening the active front line by around 60 km, Ukrainian defenders are forced to stretch thin, trying to halt any possible crossing of the river along the sparsely inhabited riverside. This is of particular importance as we are in the middle of winter and the river may freeze, allowing troops and vehicles to cross it without the need of a bridge. The riverside was until a few days ago only guarded by scattered Regiment Azov National Guard troops, being equipped with mostly light vehicles like jeeps and small arms with a few heavier weapons like T-64 tanks or ATGM to defend against attacking armored vehicles. Furthermore, the Kalmius river frontline is one of the closest to the Russian border and the main invasion hub, making it easy to resupply advancing forces from inside Russia. If Russian forces manage to push back Ukrainian defenders at only one sector of the river front, they will be able to establish bridgeheads on the left side of it, being able to directly attack cities like Mariupol or Volnovakha, which might be the final aim in this region.

 

The Donetsk airport campaign

It is no secret that Russian forces seek to entirely control Donetks airport which must feel like a sting in their meat, being a – hypothetical – direct port for attacks on the DNR’s wannabe capital Donetsk. Thus, this front was always one of the most active, also and especially during the almost 4 months of the Minsk ceasefire farce. Until December 9, Ukrainian forces defended like lions, firing back with all kinds of weapons at Russian attackers and killing up to 500 of them within a few weeks (maybe even more between late August and early December).

close Donetsk

However then president Poroshenko decided to forbid his forces returning fire “until their lives were in acute risk” and Russian forces established launching grounds for attacks all around – and not more than 50 meters from Terminal 1 and the Tower, which are today the only installations held by the so-called “Cyborgs”, the defenders of the area. Still, all attempts by the invader to directly attack the terminal complex were fought back with huge casualties on the Russian side. This fact plus the circumstance that attacking forces are now too close to the target to use heavy weapons against it led to a final change of mind pincer movewith the attackers, deciding during the last 7 days not to cut the airport from the Ukrainian-held territory anymore but the territory from the airport, encircling it in a wide curve, forcing – then – besieged forces to surrender as for the lack of food and ammunition. Similar tactics were used successfully in Saur Mohyla and Ilovaisk in late August last year. On January 5, the Ukrainian intelligence service voiced exactly that concern, namely that a pincer movement by Russian invasion forces from Spartak and Donetsk’s Kuibyshivs’kyi district is in the planning and would have the price of the entire airport.

northern donetskSuch move has to be prepared, taking into account that strong Ukrainian army formations are positioned all to the north, north west and west of the airport. So Russian army artillery and missile troops started shelling not some but literally all Ukrainian held towns and villages in the three cardinal directions of the airport. As the ATO map is not able to show such concentration of fire in a meaningful way, I developed a map with the exact targets according to the Ukrainian army reports.

Thanks to the RT cam, live footage of the shelling can be seen and heard day and night, week for week, month for month. After realizing that a direct assault would be impossible and the Ukrainian-given period of time to gain strength, Russian forces seem now self-confident enough to prepare for a much wider offensive, not only trying to invade the airport, but all the Ukrainian-held front line towns around it.

 

Operation “Closing the gap”
debaltseveThe Ukrainian-held area leading to the important railway knot city of Debaltseve not only looks like a cut into the “self- or rather: Moscow-declared people’s republics of Luhansk and Donetsk”, it also feels like one for the both regimes and their Russian masters. At the same time, it is an obstacle in logistical terms for invasion forces, wishing to move freely between Luhansk and Donetsk city. Thus, it is a declared goal by the Russian occupation command to close that gap, if not by negotiations (as was hoped for in mid September), then by force. This target was never given up during the “ceasefire” and there was not one day without attacks on front line villages like Nikishyne. However rare footage from the area (by Graham Phillips) showed some rather poorly-equipped Russian and pro-Russian infantry troops, not being able for major offensive operations in October and November. Now, Russian forces use large caliber weapon systems like Grad missiles and even tanks, especially over the last 48 hours. This indicates, they move from “provoking” Ukrainian forces holding that front to rather serious offensive operations, possibly resulting in territorial gains and the ability to directly attack Debaltseve itself.

 

Northern expansion

northern luhanskLast but not least, Luhansk region remains another hot spot of Russian invasion ambitions. During the first months of the “ceasefire”, the area along the Bakhmutka highway (M04), leading from occupied Luhansk to liberated Lisiciansk was one of the most active zones of confrontation. “Russian Cossack” terrorist troops felt – seemingly against all agreements as they received multiple heavy weapons to invade Ukraine – not bound to any orders from Moscow anymore and attacked at will, capturing “Checkpoint 32” and Smile in late October, taking more than 100 km² of Ukraine. However after this, troubles grew between those forces and the Moscow-loyal “LC (Luhansk Poeple’s Republic)” regime, resulting in battles against each other and a lull in fighting the Ukrainian army. Ultimately the most rebellious Russian commanders were either killed (January 2) or forced to return to their homeland (January 5) and the Russian army took control of all fighting forces in the area. Since then, the front is even more active and dangerous with a Russian invasion army, willing to recapture the earlier-lost territories around Severodonetsk and Rubizhne in the north west as well as Stanitsa Luhanska in the east. Especially this area would Russia give more kilometers of direct border line between its mainland and the invaded territories inside Ukraine, being a win-win situation in its perspective.

 

In conclusion it is simply a fact that shortly after the observed and confirmed reports of rotation and replacement of former paid mercenary forces with regular Russian army troops all across the occupied territories of Donbas, attacks on Ukrainian positions and towns as well as their deadliness have sharply increased. After those 50 attacks being shown in the map used for this analysis which took place between January 8 and 9, the following 12 hours brought another 24 attacks on Ukrainian forces, indicating that there won’t be any let up in the near future.

Russia definitely has once again turned up the heat and increases its efforts to control even larger parts of Ukraine, willing to conquer those in a brutal and way which is against international law and against all its promises to at least calm down the situation or even better withdraw its forces from Ukraine.

On the Ukrainian side – and I know, this sounds like a broken record, actions must be taken now to spoil Russia’s appetite for more Ukrainian land by letting them pay for every square meter they attack as much as possible. This might be the only way to lead it to a major decision: “Blink” once again like in the end of August and being punished with more international sanctions .. or finally come to its senses and stop its obvious efforts to illegally capture more soil of its western neighbor.