Revealed: Ukraine silently surrenders more territory under the Minsk 2 agreement

Lost territory after Minsk 2

During the first days of the Minsk 2 ceasefire deal, Ukrainian forces lost some 70% of the recently regained territory east of Mariupol. However, these losses were not that dramatic as Russian forces occupied the land over the previous 5 months at that time and forces of Regiment Azov managed to hold some of the soil to establish a new line of defense east of the coastal hub of Mariupol. Ukraine also lost the city of Debaltseve plus dozens of surrounding towns and villages after the 2nd Minsk document was signed – enough reason to nullify the entire fake treaty by the way. But all this happened during the first week of the signed “ceasefire and peace deal”, when emotions and battlefield actions still ran high. Also the strategic value of all losses during that week were manageable, given the fact that Debaltseve was mostly encircled at this time anyway and the focus in the south lies on Mariupol and not villages like Pavlopil or Kominternove.

Repetition of mistakes 

At the same time, the events that took place during the last 5 days around the strategically important north eastern frontline town of Stanytsia Luhanska must be called “dramatic” and are mostly comparable to what happened during the Minsk 1 “ceasefire” deal around the new terminal of Donetsk airport. Russian forces used the time to close in on the terminal, occupying places just 50 meters away and laid ground for their offensive in January, which finally reached its goal to entirely take the strategic and symbolic airport.

Where is Stanytsia Luhanska located and why is it so important?

Stanytsia Luhanska is a former 12.000 inhabitants town which is located almost on the North Eastern very end of the Ukrainian-Russian front in the Donbas region. It’s fall would not only mean another settlement falling under Russian control, but the emergence of a strong Russian bridgehead beyond the Minsk 2 demarcation line river “Seversky Donets” and an extension of the direct Russian-Russian-occupied border inside Ukraine and thus the possibility for Russian troops to bring more reinforcements directly from Russia to the front inside Ukraine and push more effectively towards northern Luhansk region.

Unbenannt

Until now, the town and its surrounding villages were in the comfortable situation of being located just north of the frontline-river Seversky Donets, which as a natural barrier stopped the Russian advance back in August 2014 and was – also therefore – so far defended with all necessary means by the Ukrainian army and its volunteer allies. This changed after the Minsk 2 agreement.

Futile trust in the Russian side

Ukrainian leaders – once again – were shortsighted and naive enough to pull back their forces from the river, relying on the Russian adherence to the Minsk agreement. Admittedly: Crossing bridges over a RIVER, defined as a common border, is the most flagrant and visible violation of a peace treaty imaginable and there can be some confidence, no halfway reliable partner – even enemy – would violate an agreement in such blatant way, if he wants to be taken by his word in ANY future negotiations. However, the Ukrainian side once again seems to have forgotten who we are talking about, namely the Russian expansionist regime under its ruthless leadership.

Not even 5 weeks after signing the Minsk 2 treaty, the Russian invasion command in Moscow decided to ignore the agreed on demarcation line and cross the Seversky Donets river at two points, not just to control strategically important bridgeheads for now, but also to have a springboard for their – surely already planned – attack on the town and wider northern Luhansk region in the coming months.

Losing the first bridgehead

As a logic consequence (of their “not-before-Kiev” satisfied territorial aspirations in neighboring Ukraine), Russian forces crossed the – unguarded – railway bridge west of Stanytsia Luhanska on March 16, establishing a well-fortified bridgehead on the eastern riverside, some 1100 meters from the town itself. Ukrainian forces realized the crossing of the river, but were – “in accordance with the Minsk agreement” – not allowed to attack the Russian corps and re-establish the agreed-on Minsk demarcation line. Instead, they “went to the militants and asked them to return to their side of the river”, which must be described as beyond naivete. While the talks attempt and the threat to recapture the area by force was first announced by the governor of Luhansk region, these aspects were later removed from the official news release, likely b/c the leadership in Kiev ordered a total silence and no reaction on the events.

railway bridge

No military response – not even an official complaint to the signers of the Minsk 2 deal or the OSCE – happened and the newly established line of contact on the wrong side of the river was simply pretended to never have happened in Ukrainian policy and media announcements since then.

Losing the second bridgehead

Three days later on March 19, news of a battle at another bridge, south of Stanytsia Luhanska emerged, with the official statement saying the bridge was “completely destroyed” by a large explosion, indicating this explosion was triggered to prevent the repetition of the March 16 events (described above), some kilometers to the north west.

However on the next day, March 20, Russian TV accompanied a (pro-)Russian fighter walked over the bridge, not only showing, Ukrainian forces had abandoned their side of the river and there were no defenders left, but also making it possible to geolocate the exact cut of the bridge which is not – as claimed by the Ukrainian side – over the water, but well into the Ukrainian-controlled side of the river and thus not stopping a technically advanced enemy force at all.

bridge cut

Final conclusions on the situation could be drawn today, when Ukraine’s Channel 5 sent a  camera team to the region, proving that the incredible had happened. The Ukrainian army completely withdrew from near the river bridge south of the town and “Luhansk People’s Republic” / Russian forces had established yet another bridgehead on the northern bank of the river,now controlling two of the four bridges, connecting occupied Luhansk with the still-free part in the area.

2nd bridgehead

Further geolocated Ukrainian TV footage showed that badly equipped and low-numbering Ukrainian forces withdrew some 1100 meters from the newly established Russian bridgehead, just as witnessed at the western railway bridge crossing.

Strategic consequences

Summarizing the strategic situation in the area reveals a gloomy outlook. There are now two Russian bridgeheads on the northern / eastern / Ukrainian side of the river, which saved the Ukrainian military of being overrun since more than 7 months. For no understandable reason, the Ukrainian military and political leadership decided to give up its largest strategic advance on the front, allowing the already superior invasion army to build springboards to Stanytsia Luhanska and thus nearby Shchaystya  as well as Novoaidar little more north.

2 bridgeheads

While the southern bridgehead can be used to bring in infantry troops (at least until the car bridge is repaired), the western occupied railway bridge can be used to send heavy weapons like tanks over the river. Beside those obvious advantages, the Ukrainian side also bargained away the possibility to monitor the river itself, checking for pontoon bridges to be established by Russian army sappers (as seen before). The losses themselves and no military attempts to regain the two lost positions must be called absolutely irresponsible from a military as well as political point of view. Beside the dramatic change of the military initial situation on the ground, it remains once again a riddle, if the Ukrainian political and military leadership is deliberately suicidal and actively trying to put more of its soil under Russian control or completely incompetent, making exactly those tactical errors (again and again) that worsen its situation in the gravest possible direction.

OSCE “at work”

Last but not least, today’s footage by Ukrainian Channel 5 again showed the uselessness of the current OSCE mission to Eastern Ukraine. The TV team approached the newly established Russian ( “LNR”) checkpoint, which was obviously on the wrong side of the Minsk 2 – fixed demarcation line, together with at least one OSCE monitors jeep. When the OSCE monitors saw what happened from their car (from almost 500 meters away), they decided to turn around and not check for further details or – how odd would this be?! – ask the Russian forces to stick to the Minsk 2 ceasefire and demarcation line agreement and return to their side of the river.

osce

In the end, nobody seems to be really unhappy with the very recent Russian advances over the Seversky Donets and thus over the agreed on Minsk 2 demarcation line. Not the Russian side, not the Ukrainian side and not the neutral monitors. … Which is bound to end in disaster.

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A concentration camp on the doorstep – “life’s little pleasures” of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad

WARNING: This report shows and links to the most graphic images of tortured-to-death people, you can imagine.

On March 17, 2015, the Syrian-Arab news site “Zaman al-Wasl” published, what it says were leaked pictures of Assad regime atrocities, committed in the Syrian capital Damascus between 2011 and 2013. Despite the pictures – part of a 55.000 files package – have been leaked since mid 2013 and confirmed real by CNN and the Guardian newspaper in January 2014, they have never been published since then for no know reason. Until now.

What the pictures show is difficult to describe as hard to bear. Famished bodies of men, women and children, obviously tortured and starved to death and what seems to be a former military hospital, now (at least until 2013) being used as a concentration and death camp to detain, torture and kill people, seen as disloyal or dangerous to the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

child

However the freshly released picture do not only show the unimaginable war crimes of a dictator, who’s methods and cruelty can be well compared to Nazi Germany’s Adolf Hitler; they also allow for the first time a geolocation of one of the death camps, revealing unbelievable facts.

The pictures of some 20-30 dead people were taken in the yard of an army facility in the the upper Damascus quarter of Mezzeh in the north west of the Syrian capital, which also houses the palace of the “president” (illegal dictator) himself. And that is not all. A precise geolocation of the place could be established on the day of the release of the pictures, revealing that the concentration and death camp is located less than 500 meters downhill from the presidential palace, unveiling and unbelievable spatial proximity between the suspected whereabouts of the dictator and his family on the one side and the location of the worst imaginable atrocities on the other side.

map damascus

Using the possibilities of Google Earth, yet more terrifying details emerge. There was (or still is) indeed a direct sight line between the rear part of the Assad family’s palace and the located death camp, meaning it was theoretically possible for Assad, his family and his allies as well as international political guests to see with their own eyes what kind of war crimes, the regime is involved, namely killing tens of thousands of Syrians, not willing to obey the orders of the regime or just being members of the “wrong” religious belonging.

balcony

While it can not be proven, anybody ever took a look from the palace at the well visible bodies in the nearby death camp, it remains more than odd that the Syrian dictator took the risk of heaving his war crimes being established so close to his physical presence, family and international guests – mostly supporters of him and his policies. Hence the possibility that the visual axis was established deliberately to brag about the death machinery to guests or even “engage” in an abnormal “hobby” must be seen as likely.

Last but not least, a look at the possible extend of the war crimes is also possible with the latest geolocated pictures. The two military buses in the picture could have been used to transport detainees to the facility and torture and kill them there afterwards. This is more than a guess. The facility concerned was regularly covered by satellites since the year 2000. In the first 23 images, there are no buses parked on the yard. This changes in May 2012. Suddenly a bus appears on the yard, which has never been parked there before. The next 6 orbital images from 2012 show one bus standing at the yard of the camp in each(!) picture. All three satellite pictures from 2013 show two buses in the area. Just as the latest image, which is from January 2014.

busses

It doesn’t need much fantasy to imagine, why these buses suddenly appeared parked on the yard on EVERY satellite image since early 2012 and are also present on the released pictures … I still gave some hint on the picture above.

While leakers can publish evidence from Bashar al-Assad war crimes and online analysts can make sens of them, it remains to be up to the mainstream media to communicate such findings to decision makers. Finally, it is those decision makers, who have to draw the right conclusions and ACT accordingly.

To offer fresh talks to a regime, which’s crimes against humanity are only comparable to those, committed by the Nazi regime in the 1940s, is not just a punch into the face of those actors, just described but also the highest possible disrespect to the victims of that very regime.

Silent advances – the Russian offensive towards Mariupol already began

Eight days after the fall of Debaltseve (article), many analysts still believe, the worst in terms of fighting might be over in eastern Ukraine and Russia’s thirst for more territory appeased. Fighting activity continuously decreased during the last days along the border of occupied Donbas and yesterday was the first day of no Ukrainian fatalities since the signing of the Minsk 2 agreement on February 12. Still, this impression deceives.

The prediction, I stated in my last article, that large parts of the offensive Russian forces which were active in and around Debaltseve moved south after their victory there and will soon turn up in the greater Donetsk area as well as near the southern coastal city of Mariupol was meanwhile confirmed by multiple analysts, including several sources on the ground in southern Donetsk region. However, what seems not to have been realized by analysts and international media organizations yet is that the question, whether or not an attack towards Mariupol will take place or not has already been answered. It started the moment, Debaltseve fell to the invasion army.

In early February, Ukrainian national guard forces from Regiment Azov were not willing to obey the suicidal “defense only” strategy by the military and political leadership in Kiev and decided to go on the attack (article), amid a weak Russian / local separatists-held frontline east of the city (as most forces were active around Debaltseve). Within 2 days, they recaptured around 120 km² of Ukrainian land and established new fortified positions in a number of towns, some 10-15 east of Mariupol.The below (professional) map gives a good impression of what could be regained and put back under Urainian control during this offensive.

map mariupol1

But the joy was only brief. 5 days later, on February 16, Russian forces started massive attacks on the front, pushing Azov troops out of Shyrokyne and to the town’s eastern outskirts (geolocated) in a first stage of their counterattack. Several days of relative calm followed, but on February 23, their offensive gained pace again, using all kind of weapons – of course – forbidden in the Minsk 2 agreement – and even Russian air force surveillance planes over the occupied territory. The below detailed map shows what was used where and what the initial situation in terms of territorial possession at that time was.

mariupol map 2

Due to the (anti!-)Ukrainian strategy of adhering to the Minsk 1+2 agreements, defending Azov troops could only fight back with small arms and mortars, by far not strong enough to resist the fresh Russian push, executed by forces coming from central Donbas via Telmanove as well as via Novoazovsk and thus directly from Russian army and invasion bases across the border (article). Reports from the Information Resistance group say up to 600 invasion forces stand ready to take part in the offensive as well as dozens of tanks and armored fighting vehicles, not to speak of heavy artillery and MLRS systems.

As a logic consequence of the uneven (allowance to use) force, Ukrainian troops initially had to withdraw from Kominternove and shortly after from Pavlopil and its tiny suburb Pyshchevyk, meaning a loss of some 70% of the territory, Regiment Azov liberated earlier this month. Not even today, as the Ukrainian ministry of internal affairs report the use of Russian army T-72 tanks to attack Regiment Azov positions near Shyrokyne, the Ukrainian army command would give its troops the needed artillery cover. The below map shows the situation as it appears according to all available reports on February 25.

mariupol map 3

However, these – yes – major territorial advances by the Russian side (of some 80 km² returning under their control) are once again whitewashed by the Ukrainian leadership, and even pretended to never have happened. To achieve this, they simply changed the narrative. While NSDC spox Lysenko announced on February 10, that the Ukrainian forces, by the offensive east of Mariupol., were  returning to the agreed on demarcation line in accordance with the Minsk agreement”, he / the leadership seems have changed their mind to keep face and not admit, their “hold the line” strategy once again leads to defeat. Suddenly, towns like Pavlopil and Kominternove (geolocation) turn “buffer zone” areas, where no side is meant to have a permanent presence. Thus, leaving the towns is no Ukainian withdrawal and – and here it becomes ridiculous – Russian forces “might go there, take some pictures and leave again”, but can not control these areas. However, the ATO’s sector M spokesperson Chaly does not say, why the Russian side should have any reason to leave the towns after they recaptured them. Instead, Regiment Azov reports that the settlements are used to stage artillery attacks against them, simply ignoring, they might be “buffer zone” areas …

Last but not least, many people keep asking if Russian forces will attack Mariupol itself and capture it in another step to build a land corridor to (also-)occupied Crimea. There should be doubt about that for the coming weeks at least. While some analysts believe, the Russian army and local separatists might directly attack or bypass and encircle the town, the cost for that move might be massive and possibly too high for both sides, especially taking into account that – different from Debaltseve – here both sides will have a steady streeam of resupplies and reinforcements until cutting the opponent’s supply lines with extreme force. Thus, the more likely scenario in the short term is that Russian forces will try to get back into the comfortable situation of controlling all smaller settlements east of Mariupol, being able to attack military and civilians targets in and around the town like it was the case between September last year and January 2015. Doing this, they would be able to inflict constant smaller casualties on the fixed Ukrainian line of defense, keeping the conflict boiling on a low but steady flame. At the same time, it would enable them to raise the stakes (attack Mariupol itself) whenever their supreme command in Moscow feels to do so, without having to move larger contingents of men and material (more than 5 kilometers).

Finally what we might see during the next weeks and probably months will rather be an offensive towards and not on Mariupol. However, this offensive is already happening as we speak, kept dead quiet by both, the Russian and the Ukrainian government, but painfully felt by mostly volunteer Ukrainian defenders on the ground as well as civilians, coming back under Russian rule or – like so many others – being forces to flee to Mariupol itself or other safer regions in Ukraine.

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

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

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

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

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

map 20.02.

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

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

mariupol

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

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

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

tank column

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

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

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

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

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

Fool me twice … Russian troops take large parts of Debaltseve

FOOL ME ONCE, SHAME ON YOU. FOOL ME TWICE, SHAME ON ME.

Shortly after the Minsk 1 ceasefire started, it became clear that Russian forces were in no mooed to respect the agreed on truce and started repositioning around the then Ukrainian-held airport of Donetsk, getting in favorable positions all around the new terminal, the only mention worthy position of the Ukrainian military then. After some weeks of relative calm they started an intense shelling campaign of the large building and in late December, they used the advantage which was given to them by the Ukrainian political and military command, assaulting the area from all relevant directions. Three weeks later, the strategically important airport fell to invasion forces (article) from neighboring Russia, a fact that should have been a chilling reminder for the government and military command in Kiev that signing a ceasefire with Russia and relying on it was a grave mistake which should not be repeated at any point in the future.

Far from that! Only 4 weeks later – on February 15 – another “ceasefire” came into effect against the backdrop of a dire military situation around the strategically crucial city of Debalteve with Russian troops claiming (and there are many arguments this was and is indeed the case) the city and thousands of Ukrainian troops in and around it were – and are – encircled and would have the choice to either surrender and withdraw or being obliterated over the next days. However, the Ukrainian political and army command seemed once again to have developed a very unique perception of reality on the ground, claiming – until today – troops are getting reinforced and resupplied and there is no need to reconsider the current – ceasefire – strategy to hold the city. This comes all the more ridiculous as the same army command recorded more than 200 Russian ceasefire violations and more than 40 killed and wounded own troops during the first 48 hours of the latest would-be-agreement.

At the same time, (pro-)Russian media, being embedded with its regular army forces, showed daily footage which – after being analyzed and geolocated – proved that Russian forces were advancing towards the city, into the city and finally took wide parts of it until today, claiming that most parts of it fell and Ukrainian units are either surrendering or withdrawing, only holding the western quarters by noon February 17.

To achieve this, the Russian army used the total absence of heavy Ukrainian artillery and MLRS cover for its troops in Debaltseve, breaching the defensive ring of the city from the north east (Zorynsk) in the night when the ceasefire started (shortly before midnight, February 14). Being inside the city on the morning of February 15, it then could follow its perverted logic of “observing the ceasefire while securing [its claimed city of] Debaltseve”. Nonetheless at this time, there might have been a tiny chance to see, the Russian “ceasefire” commitment was just another of Putin’s lies, attack the entire front and send a strong forces to Debaltseve to either retake the city and its surroundings or withdraw with weapons and leave it to the Russians. Instead the Ukrainian leadership decided – once again – to simply ignore what was happening on the ground and – even worse – counter its own soldiers begs for help, saying they were wrong and there would be no need to do so as the situation was “controlled”.

On February 16, these pleads for urgent help continued without Kiev accepting them or changing anything about its tactics. Instead the evening, the Ukrainian deputy Foreign Minister reasoned like totally out of touch with the reality, saying “everybody should stick to the agreed on ceasefire.” and that the “military is not returning their fire.” This morning (normally around 12 hours delayed) footage appeared once again, showing more territorial gains in Debaltseve, a heavy push from both sides along the main railway tracks with all sorts of Russian army high tech tanks, several Ukrainian POW and an abandoned Ukrainian base, which was seemingly left by soldiers without even taking their heavy armored vehicles with them. The below map shows a summary of the (geolocated and proven true) developments which actually happened on the ground (with a small degree of uncertainty) until the morning of today – February 17.

Developments

However the situation might have changed once again dramatically until the afternoon of today. Since the early morning, (unconfirmed!) Russian media reports claim that around 120 Ukrainian soldiers have surrendered in the city and the center was taken over by invasion forces from Ukraine’s eastern neighbor. While this is not confirmed yet, some Ukrainian journalists acknowledge parts of the version, reporting the central police department and train station were taken over by Russian forces from the Cuacasus region or that Ukrainian troops can hold out for a maximum of another 12 hours and face the threat of being killed if not reinforced after that.

At the same time, the Ukrainian geral staff told in a press conference at 1pm the following, leacing severe doubts, it was even able to see what was happening on the ground not alone act accordingly:

“The Ukrainian military control the village of Logvinovo, and also partially control the road to Debaltseve. There is fierce fighting on the outskirts of the city now, there is a tense situation in the area of the railway station, but our military are holding their positions,”

It took until 5pm in the early evening, when another communiqué was published, painting an entirely different picture of the situation:

“The situation as of right now is extremely difficult. A certain part of the city controlled by illegal armed groups. They assault groups, supported by armored vehicles and artillery attacked our positions. Continuing street battles. Armed Forces of Ukraine and other military formations to maneuver units and fire, and do everything possible to contain the aggression of terrorists

However, it can be argued that this insight comes at least 3 days too late to react in any meaningful way to the Russian advances. Also there is no word on any planned reaction included in the statement, seemingly leaving it up to the winter-withered, outgunned and outnumbered remaining forces in the city to battle it out on their own. In conclusion, signing and relying on another ceasefire was a grave mistake. But it was an even it was an even larger mistake to not revoke the agreed on halt in fighting as soon as it turned out, the Russian side had again no interest in the signed truce and would only use it to its strategic advantage. By now, it seems to late to react and save hundreds or thousands of Ukrainian troops to get killed or turn prisoners of war by the Russian army. Blind trust in the least trustworthy political actor on this planet and a refusal to realize its again made mistake led to a situation, which will now lead to another “Ilovaisk” like in late August / early September 2014. The difference this time: Everybody responsible involved this time exactly knew, about the strength and intention of the enemy and ignored all that knowledge and experience nonetheless. Being fooled for a second time in only 6 months, the involved naive actors – also from central Europe – should know who they should be ashamed of.

Update

Minutes after this article was published, the worst predictions turned out to be true. Russian troops parade more than 30 Ukrainian prisoners of war near Debaltseve, which – according to the Russian command – surrendered voluntarily and – according to the Ukrainian Defense Minister – were captured during a fight after a reinforcement convoy was ambushed and “smashed”. In any case, this is what I forecasted since weeks and also in the article above: No change in strategy by Ukraine and its western partners will lead to complete defeat against the Russian aggressor.

pow

Ukrainian POW near Debaltseve

The storm before the silence? Russian forces escalate their offensives in eastern Ukraine

8 hours before the agreed on ceasefire was thought to come in effect, not only the fighting on the ground escalates but Russian and “DNR / LC” representatives indicate, they will not feel bound to the deal anyways. This development once again proves western hopes for the Russian president Putin coming to his senses were unfounded and will be dissatisfied another time. Two hot spots of intense fighting along the line of contact in occupied Donetsk and Luhansk regions extract, with the de facto closed pocket of Debaltseve in the north and an area of some 120 km east of the coastal town Mariupol in the south.

In Debaltseve, all Ukrainian efforts to reopen the M03 between Artemivsk and Debaltseve failed since the de facto closure of the pocket 5 days ago (article), trapping an unknown number of Ukrainian troops which might be between 1500 and 5000 according to different reliable sources. Instead, Russian forces were able to widen their control over the strategically important villages of Lohvynove to the north east, controlling half the way to Luhans’ke which is the last point of Ukrainian safe control by now. Fresh Russian army special forces as well as thousands of mercenaries from all over Russian and some local anti-Ukrainian fighters flow in from Horlivka and the areas to the south east with the resupply / reinforcement line reaching directly to Rostov oblast in Russia. Coming via Vuhlehirsk and Kalynivka, they reinforce the frontline with a merely never ending volume of men and heavy weapons. Hence, all Ukrainian army attempts to reopen the M03 failed (with a lot of Ukrainian armor being destroyed) and the only – extremely dangerous and probably not usable at all – road leading into and out of Debaltseve extends some 2 km to the north of the M03 and through the village of Nyzhnje Lozove, reported to be still held by Ukrainian forces.

At the same time, troops loyal to the invasion command in Moscow, intensify their attacks on Debaltseve itself, approaching it mainly along the railway line leading to Zorynsk in the north east. They have come 3 km close to Debaltseve itself yesterday but probably further advanced overnight and stand at the Ukrainian fortifications in Novohryhorivka and the northern suburbs of the city itself by now. In Chornukhyne 3 km east of Debaltseve, Ukrainian and Russian troops fight fierce battles inside the town in what can be described as urban warfare. After the fall of the entire Ukrainian south eastern front in Mius, Ridkodub and Nikishyne, Russian forces could free more troops to take part in the assault coming from the south. The below map summarizes all important territorial and fighting-related developments around the pocket of Debaltseve, showing the desperate and probably only deteriorating situation for the Ukrainian army – in – and outside the besieged area. 

Debaltseve

Over the next hours the situation is likely to further escalate with Russian commanders saying, the 14th of February (today) would be the decisive day for the battle. However, hopes that “Ukrainian troops only have to hold out until midnight” have to be given up as Russian commanders and their local puppets first said, every attempt to reopen the pocket would be regarded as a breach of the Minsk 2 agreement and met with lethal force and later made a mockery of the entire Minsk talks, saying the battle around Debaltseve was not part of the agreement reached (The “DNR’s president” Zakharchenko) and to end the fighting around the town tonight would be a “misinterpretation by western signers” (Russia’s Lavrov via Interfax). Looking at these statements and the developments on the ground, it becomes crystal clear that Putin never planned to give up conquering the city (now) and a lot of land of Ukraine later.

The second battlefield extends east of the southern city of Mariupol, where the Ukrainian National Guard Regiment Azov launched a surprise offensive several days ago, realizing the fact that most Russian invaders are active in other parts of the occupied territory. During their initial assault they managed to push weak Russian forces back around 12 km from Mariupol (article), taking a number of villages and towns along the two main roads leading to Novoazovsk and nearby Russia. However, reports of strong Russian army formations crossing the border from nearby Taganrog turned out to be true and the Russian counteroffensive took full pace this morning with virtually all cities along the front being shelled with heavy weapons leading to the death and (mostly) injury of dozens of Azov fighters as well as civilians along the line of contact. While the Ukrainian National Guard fighters yesterday stood close to the Russian stronghold of Sakhanka (another source tweet), they seemingly had to withdraw to Shyrokyne overnight where they arranged a line of defense under heavy bombardment, successfully taking out several Russian army tanks with light anti tank weapons namely ATGM. The below map gives an impression about the situation according to all reliable sources as it looked like around noon February 14.

Mariupol

It can be excluded that Russia will accept the recent loss of 120 km² in this area. It wants to remain its eyes directly on Mariupol, the largest city remaining under Ukrainian control in occupied Donbas. To achieve that goal, it will not stop the offensive until it regains the line of contact which was in place until last Monday. Doing so and possibly facing heavy resistance from well-equipped Ukrainian forces, it remains to be seen if it will stop east of Mariupol or try to go further this time.

Looking at these developments over the last 24 hours and having in mind that Russian medium range rocket artillery repeatedly bombed cities like Kramatorsk and Artemivsk, far west to the current front, are we indeed facing “the storm before the silence”, meaning a ceasefire starting after all the current fighting in less than 8 hours?

Probably not. Russia isn’t finished with its territorial aspirations in neighboring Ukraine yet. It needs to control a much wider area to secure its strongholds in the east and push Ukrainian troops back from its “Republics’ capitals” of Donetsk and Luhansk (city). Furthermore a land bridge between occupied Crimea and the currently embattled territories of Ukraine is still needed to supply the southern Ukrainian peninsula with the goods it needs for a sustainable development. While this might not happen over the next weeks or months, latest statements (from 10 days before the ceasefire should start) by its puppets in Donetsk city have already set the course for the war to continue.

The “DNR’s president” / terrorist leader Zakharchenko made clear that if not the entire Ukrainian regions of Luhansk and Donetsk (of which Russia only controls 40% so far) became independent under their leadership, they would expand the war as long as necessary to reach that goal. Keeping that in mind the chance of a real truce starting tonight, not to talk of heavy weapons being withdrawn from next Tuesday, stands close to zero.

Creating the pretext for a prolonged war – Russians launch massive missile attack on Luhansk

The leaders of Ukraine, France, Germany and (logically!) Russia sat together for more than 12 hours on January 11 and 12 to discuss a ceasefire amid the ongoing Russian intervention in neighboring Ukraine. In the end, a “deal” was reached in which fighting should cease – not immediately – like Merkel, Hollande and Poroshenko had wished for but after a period of more than 60 hours, precisely at midnight on Saturday night / Sunday morning. This “limited continuation” was asked for by the – not participating “rebels” and formulated by president Putin as one condition for his signature.

Despite the fact that every sane person could see, this demanded prolongation of the active fighting was to create further bloodshed among the Ukrainian troops and to gain more territory – mainly around Debaltseve – until Sunday morning, it took only another 12 hours until Russian invasion forces showed what else they could “achieve” in these 66 hours, namely to create a pretext for the impossibility of the start of a ceasefire by blaming Ukraine for “massacres among the civilian population”, which demand a cotinuation of their offesnives to “save Donbas citizens from nazis”, the known Russian narrative / fake absurdity, out there since 10 months.

At 18:08 local time (19:08 Moscow time which the fake “rebel republics” implemented in occupied Donbas), the Russian-based propanda website “Russian Spring” warned:

According to intelligence reports of the Militia, in order to disrupt the agreements reached in Minsk, the Ukrainian military plans a provocation with numerous victims among the civilian population at 20:00 [19:00 Kiev time] from the direction of Stanitsa Luhanska.

Source

warning

Statement in Russian (as it might disappear from the homepage)

Several Ukrainian-based pro-Russian VK social network sites repeated the warning during the next minutes in what seemed to be a twing of bad conscience amid the knowledge that civilians would be targeted and killed in just a short while.

warning2

warning via “Luhansk 24”

The official “rebel” reasoning that “militia intelligence agencies launched an operation called >Glasnost< to prevent imminent provocations” meanwhile can be almost precluded.

1st: It is not known that Russian spies infiltrated Ukrainian units on the frontline.A warning 1 hour prior a Grad attack is thus very unlikely.

2nd: It simply makes no sense that the Ukrainian site would be interested in a continuation of hostilities as (apart from the far south) it is either holding the line or losing ground since two months, struggling to cope with a suprior Russian invasion force.

3rd: While the Ukrainian army is widely presumed to hit back at Russian artillery and MLRS positions, no matter their proximity to residential buildings, there is no proven case, it ever started a MLRS attack with such brutality and disperion on a predominantly civilian city quarter.

At exactly 19:00 local time (20:00 Moscow / “LC” time”), a massive Grad attack was launched on the eastern quarters of Luhansk, having a radius of more than 2 km. Analysts (among them a source of mine) counted 60 impacts within 20 seconds across the area, meaning “one and a half” full BM-21 Grad missile systems were emptied on civilians in the city of Luhansk.

blasts

impact picture

The missiles did not only hit residential buildings to the north east of the camera position (there are 2 more worse quality videos of the attack) but also in the middle of a main road and electrical infrastructure leading to a total blackout in the area. The wide impact area and sheer quantity of missiles used shows, this attack was merely conducted to terrorize civilians especially against the backgrop that there are no known military targets in that area (different from other parts of Luhansk city). Only the fact that the missile attack happened at night led to a relatively small casualty number among civilians with 4 killed and 7 injured according to preliminary reports.

The obligatory geolocation and analysis of the attack prove the Russian invasion command kept all its promises about the heinous attack. (Graphic!) footage of the direct aftermath of the attack made it possible.

Step one: Identifying an impact location.

Geoloc

Step two: Determining the impact angle of the used Grad missiles.

geoloc2

Step three: Taking into account missile range and territorial possessions around the attacked area.

map2

The analysis shows, not only the Russian forecast of the time but also of the direction of the attack was correct. The attack happened from direction of Stanitsa Luhanska and certainly within the possible 3 km “window of opportunity” inside occupied Zhovtnevyi district.

To complete the Russian cynicism on the attack and once again reflecting a minimum of regret by the local – NOT by the Russian – representatives of the occupation, they posted a statement one hour after the attack, virtuously shouting out:

After all, we have warned that after 20:00 the firing will start !!!!

Source

claim

In conclusion, this is another inhuman act by the Russian invasion command to incite the local population, blame the Ukrainian army for IT’S crimes and create another pretext to prolong the war, an approach, barely surpassable in its malice.