The beginning of the end – Russian forces take Vuhlehirs’k

It comes as no surprise that yesterday around noon, strong Russian army forces started their so far heaviest assault on the 7800 souls town of Vuhlehirs’k, the second biggest town within the so-called “Debaltseve bridgehead”, a territory held by the Ukrainian army and volunteer corps between the Russian-ruled “republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk. A look at the official “ATO map” shows the strategic significance of the town, not only being the last fortress between the Russian military hub of Horlivka and Ukrainian-held Debaltseve, but also key to the only open resupply route between Debaltseve and Artemivsk, further to the west. The only road, the M03, runs just 5 km to the north east of the town and whoever controls all of Vuhlehirs’k also controls the movement between some 5000 Ukrainian troops east of it and the rest of Ukraine (map).

ato map

tactical map

Hence, it was an imperative for Russian troops to capture this town, before starting the direct attack on Debaltseve. As a matter of fact, controlling Vuhlehirs’k and the territory to its north could even avoid a direct assault on Debaltseve as a lasting siege would force thousands on Ukrainian troops to surrender without a fight, running out of food and ammunition. The general Russian strategy in the area was also described in my article from January 27, predicting “the fall of Debaltseve is inevitable […] if there is no radical change in tactics”. As there is no sign on the horizon of this change to come, regular Russian army forces began their assault from Horlivka in the west and Kayutyne in the south on January 29. While on this day, only little footage was published, showing that they overran the outer defensive line of Vuhlehirs’k, losing at least one T-72B1 and taking several Ukrainian soldiers POW, early January 30, Russian state TV published extensive video footage of the battle and its aftermath. Already on the way to Vuhlehirs’k, many Russian army T-72 main battle tanks could be seen, proving this is no further faltering skirmish, but indeed the long anticipated major push, military forces would conduct from the daily resupplied and reinforced areas north east of Donetsk city.

T-72

T-72 on the road to Vuhlehirs’k

The following footage shows the brutality of the battle that took place on the western and southern entrances of Vuhlehirs’k, where Ukrainin forces put up fierce resistance and destroyed more Russian tanks (see picture below) and likely also many troops, which are not shown on Russian footage, but were outgunned and defeated in the end, allowing the Russian army to enter the center of the town.

T-64BV

destroyed Russian T-64BV (no Ukr IFF)

Next scenes of the analzed footage show the very center of Vuhlehirs’k, where fighting still took place and residential buildings around the main intersection of the M04 highway were burning. Some Ukrainian troops seemed to still resist as shooting was aubilbe and Russian forces were still in a cautios and nervous mood.

Russian soldier

Russian soldiers in the center of the city

When the situation calmed down a little bit, Russian TV teams were able to take wider shots of the area, making it possible to geolocate and thus verify the footage. This enabled a clear confirmation of the fact that – at least yesterday afternoon – Russian forces were present in the center of the city, dominating its vital route to Debaltseve itself.

city

Geolocation of the Russian advance

At the same time, this geolocation and taking into account the previously analyzed footage made the creation of a strategic map of the battle and ground possession status possible – again – for this time yesterday afternoon. It shows that Russian forces indeed stormed Vuhlehirs’k from Kayutyne just south of it and a long the railway to the west, so from Horlivka and its suburbs. Both (footage analysis-based) assault directions were later confirmed by Ukrainian journalists and soldiers on the ground.

map

Strategic map of the battle

The crucial question remains, what happened after yesterday afternoon. While the Russian propaganda claims, it caputred most of the town and the battle is effectively over, various Ukrainian sources paint totally different pictures of the situation. The commander of the well-known Ukrainian national guard force “Battalion Donbas” for example, said this morning on his facebook page that the town was lost. Shortly after, reports from journalists on the ground said, Ukrainian forces would hold the northern and eastern part of the town, starting from the train station. This version would perfectly correspond with the created map above. However in the afternoon, the Ukrainian government’s MP and interior ministry member Anton Gerashchenko claimed that entire Vuhlehirs’k was back under Ukrainian control due to “accurate artillery strikes and daring maneuvers of our tanks”. It is telling that this most official statement so far also claimed, Russian troops only managed to capture a “suburb” of the town yesterday, but were repulsed. A flagrant lie as this article has proven. But what really happened last night? Russian media footage shows intense Ukrainian multi launch rocket system attacks. On the center of Vuhlehirs’k – and on Russian troops stationed their overnight. However, what is not shown are Ukrainian tanks or ground troops re-entering the city or any fighting from the Russian side. Instead it ends with Russian tank drivers, showing the victory sign on broad daylight.

MLRS

MLRS attacks on Russian forces overnight

Despite the fact that it remains unproven if the latest scene really shows the day after or the time before the Ukrainian artillery / MLRS “counterattack” during the night, it must be doubted that the Ukrainian army either has the technical and manpower-related capabilities in the area to launch a counteroffensive on hundreds – if not thousands – of well-armed Russian troops in the town, enyjoing a steady flow of resupplies from Horlivka and Yenakijeve. Therefore, my final assessment of the claim would be that we are talking about the same “repelling” successes as were claimed for 5 days over the new terminal of  Donetsk airport. All turning out to be untrue.

Update —

Shortly after the article at hand was published (in the evening hours of January 30), Russian LifeNews brang a report from Vuhlehirs’k, proving that the city has entirely fallen to Russian army forces and Ukrainian counteroffensives – if there were any – totally failed. Video footage does not only show heavy tank and apc forces (T-64BV, T-72B1, BMP-2) inside the town today.

tanks

Russian tanks and apc

It also contains geolocatable footage of a church in the northern outskirts of the town, showing Russian forces pointing their rifles to the north and the LifeNews “journalist” (not!) reporting without cover from possible small arms fire. According to the LifeNews report, Ukrainian forces were pushed out of the town and are shelling it with mortars and artillery from Kalynivka in the north and Debaltseve. This seems to correspond with the footage itself.

geolocation

Geolocation in northern Vuhlehirsk

From a larger distance, the geolocated footage is evidence that Russian forces took over (at least) 90% of the town including the strategic train station, which was the front line earlier this morning according to this article (read above) and Ukrainian journalist reports.

map

city map

Looking at the powerful involved forces (dozens of tanks, apc and hundreds to thousands of Russian troops), there seems to be no chance the Ukrainian army will recapture the area (as it did not recapture ANY Russian-taken area since September last year). Knowing that the Russian forces are as quickly as possible moving northeastwards, it becomes clear where their aim lies. The target is to cut the M03 as soon as possible, creating a pocket with more than 5000 Ukrainian troops in Debaltseve. Looking at the speed of their advance, this might become true within days rather than weeks.

maplarge

regional map

End of the update —

In conclusion, I might sound once again like a broken record. I wrote 3 days ago “if there is no radical change in tactics by the Ukrainian side”, it will not only lose the “bridgehead” of Debaltseve, but entire Donbas. I continued warning that “purely defensive operations against an enemy with the fire – and man – power observed in eastern Ukraine during the last 4 weeks, leads to sustained territorial losses.” I have nothing to add to these statements beside calling upon the Ukrainian government once again: Act now or start digging trenches on the eastern outskirts of Kharkiv and Zaporizhia. Because this is where the current course of the fighting is leading sooner rather than later.

Advertisements

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 Russian invasion continues – latest military developments in Ukraine

Today on the 4th of January 2015, we are 27 days into the Ukrainian government’s latest initiative of the “silent mode” – the latest additional appeasement measure after the “Minsk agreement” from September last year. Still, there is no visible let up in Russian attacks on the front line all across occupied Donbas, reaching from southern Mariupol until Stanitsia Luhanska on the north eastern end of the new de facto border between Russia and Ukraine. The number of daily Russian attacks on Ukrainian held towns and military positions slightly decreased from approximately 40-50 a day to now 20-30, however this is rather due to the fact that Russian forces now decide when and where to hit, being able to concentrate their forces on the target areas, not being afraid anymore of Ukrainian counterattacks or even return fire after their assaults. Just during the first 4 days of 2015, Ukraine saw 2 civilians and 1 soldier killed in fighting, while at least 7 civilians and 12 more Ukrainian troops were injured. Hot spots of the fighting remain the same as before December 9, meaning the Bakhmutka highway in northern Luhansk province with its Ukrainian strongholds Krymske, Zolote and Hirske being targeted daily, the town of Stanitsia Luhanska on the (old) Ukrainian-Russian border and Popasna, opposite Pervomaisk. Yes, the number of Grad missile attacks decreased, but more direct artillery, mortar and small arms encounters remain a daily appearance with civilians as well as Ukrainian armed forces casualties. In Donetsk region, the airport of Donetsk city as well as its bridgeheads in Pisky, Opytne and partly Avdeevka are subject to daily shelling and fire attacks, while it remains unclear, if Terminal 1 of Donetsk airport is still accessible via Ukrainian.held territory or the two allowed resupply routes via Russian-held territory signal an even worse situation. It is chilling that Ukrainian troops at the airport – the so called “Cyborgs” – claim, they were not rotated and resupplied with arms and ammunition since more than 8 weeks.

Rus flags

Picture shows flags of “Novorossiya” on top of Terminal 2, only meters away from Terminal 1, held by the Ukrainian army

A rather new development in terms of Russian attack focus areas stretches along the Kalmius river, north of Mariupol. This river is the official demarcation line, agreed on by all parties in the Minsk memorandum. However, as we know Russian forces and their local proxies do not accept their own signatures under the paper, it is not astonishing they are willing to extend their area of control beyond that natural border. Thus, attacks started on January 1st with all sorts of weapons, even face to face encounters, trying to push back Ukrainian forces – mainly from the Regiment Azov national guard – and build bridgeheads on the left side of the river. Between January 2 and 4, Orlivske, Hnutove and Hranitne came under attack from Russian forces.

Kalmius

Map shows locations and used weapons, acc. to the Ukrainian defenders

Beyond concrete attacks on the Ukrainian line of defense, multiple other worrying developments were recorded, mainly a – partly violent – replacement of Russian “volunteer” (former army) mercenaries with more Moscow-loyal forces, accepting the high command from the Kremlin and behaving less “wild” on Ukrainian ground. Despite only little facts available, it seems those Russian invaders, trying to build a “New Russia” – “Novorossiya” – are fought and replaced by the more “legitimate” pro-Moscow regimes, namely the “People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk”. While one Russian ringleader, called “Batman”, was killed by LC regime forces, others of his group swore to fight both, the local regimes as well as the Ukrainian army from now on. Ukrainian reports say up to 23 militants from both sides were killed in recent infighting, seemingly supported by aftermath pictures.

batman

Aftermath of LC-Novorossiya infighting in Luhansk region

While those, not behaving like Moscow wants it, are sent back to Russia or – if not willing to – obliterated without mercy, those, who obey to the Kremlin leaders’ will are rewarded with the latest Russian army military hardware, namely the BPM-97 “Vystrel”. Those apc, only produced in Russia and only used by Russian border troops, are the latest hint that the very leadership of the Russian Federation has nothing in mind that could equal any kind of retraction from its offensive position in Ukraine.

BPM-97

The BPM-97 in “war games” in Luhansk province

At the same time, it becomes once more explicit that Russia – just like with its T-72B1 or T-72B3 – would never give its latest armored personal carriers to any “rebel” faction in some renegade region abroad, but would only allow a free “export” of its 2000s hardware with qualified and loyal – Russian Army – personal. That this personal is active as never before in Ukraine can on the one hand be recognized by multiple reports:  Even the Ukrainian NSDC, which has a long history of downplaying Russian involvement in the conflict, fearing a cut off from international funds, said on January 3 that hundreds of Russian Federation troops entered Ukraine lately. Other reports from local witnesses and media reported for instance that 300 Russian soldiers had taken over Horlivka at the frontline with Ukraine, sending “DNR” forces to the hinterland. On the other hand, more and more evidence turns up that Russian soldiers from the Far East, seen approaching from Ulan Ude and elsewhere in November, are now fighting in Donbas, like in Horlivka as mentioned above.

horlivka

Far East Russian soldier in Horlivka on January 1

Last but not least, the Russian army (ab)used the Ukrainian “silence mode” to build up a working military logistic and infrastructure network in Donbas, now being able to (at least for a while) repulse any kind of military attack from the Ukrainian mainland. Part of this network are air defense systems and backup bases in Donbas hinterland (10km or more from the front line), like this base with dozens of BMP-1 in a former public transport depot, recently recovered and geolocated by me in Krasnyi-Luch.

krasnyi-luch

Russian base in Krasnyi Luch

In conclusion, there is no indication at all of Russia or its two local puppet regimes, having any intention to stick to the signed Minsk agreement. Hence, there is no sign on the horizon that the Ukrainian president’s peace plan, ceasefire or “silent mode” were anything close to be working in Ukraine’s favor. Therefor it is up to the Ukrainian government to chose if it wants to further stand idle and watch how a powerful Russian invasion force is taking shape on Ukrainian soil, able to hit hard when it where it chooses — OR if it wants to regain the initiative in the conflict by not allowing militants to strike at will and unpunished, killing Ukrainian citizens and soldiers and – slowly but steadily – expanding their controlled territory inside Ukraine and further shrinking a young, but proud and – if willing – also punchy European nation. Did you have a good read?! Please support my work with 1$ per month or more!

“The Boy who cried wolf” – my interview with the BBC at the turning point in Ukraine

At the 21st of August 2014, I was contacted by Vivienne Nunis from the BBC World Service, asking for an interview on the current situation in eastern Ukraine.

Although, the battle for Donbas was raging on for almost 4 months at this point, the general expectation was that the Ukrainian army was advancing and – after the recaptures of towns like Sloviansk, Kramatorsk and Lisiciansk – was close to retaking Luhansk and Donetsk city, which would have brought the majority of the population of Donbas back under Ukrainian government control.

Instead, it had decided to bypass these metropoles and instead try to recapture the entire borderline between Ukraine and Russia, seemingly still thinking, there was an influx in fighters and equipment ongoing, but no direct involvement of the Russia Federation’s armed forces was looming on the horizon. As most of us know today – it was dead wrong.

Already two weeks before this date, the first T-72B1 (video-evidently) turned up inside Ukraine, tanks that – different from the until then supplied old sotcks T-64 – were still in active service by the Russian Federation’s army and which the country would never have “presented” to “rebels” abroad, not being sure that the operators of those modern battle tanks were trained enough to properly use them on the battlefield.

However at this point, several days before the end of August, most of the relevant actors, including the EU and the Ukrainian government as well as wide parts of the public, did not believe or at least did not communicate, that Russia had already gone far beyond logistical support of – few and weak – local insurgent forces as well as “volunteers”, being drafted and deployed to eastern Ukraine from Russian regions like the Caucasus or the wider Don region with its “Cossack” minority community.

At the same time, I was covering the conflict as detailed and beyond mainstream sources as possible, analyzing and geolocating people’s footage, showing large columns of – manned – Russian weapon systems streaming into cities like Krasnodon and Thorez, both, near to the Russian border and strategically located near Luhansk, resp. Donetsk city.

I pointed out that the observed T-72, BTR-80A as well as BMP, MT-LB and a wide range of artillery pieces were only the forerunners of things that would follow shortly. For this pessimistic – and widely contrary to the Ukrainian army-published constant success messages, I was almost daily called the proverbial “boy who cried wolf”, who overdid military developments on the ground and was – if at all – crying “Russian invasion!” far too early.

However, some attentive people – like Vivienne and her bosses at the BBC – had the presentiment that most of the public had a wrong impression of what was really going on in the eastern Ukrainian border areas or at least thought it would be wise give a voise to those, opposing the general public opinion. – So I gave the interview at the 23rd of August, clarifying that already at this point, some 100 Russian T-64 main battle tank had entered Ukraine and more modern equipment was entering at this very moment. I also felt the obligation to say, that because of this, it was misleading and simply wrong to speak of “separatists”, but the only possible accurate wording was to call those forces “invaders”.

Although the short interview didn’t allow me to further go into detail, I think I made it clear, that we are not dealing with a local insurgency, but a foreign-led invasion, happening in eastern Ukraine at this time and gaining strength by the day.

Within the next 7 days, it turned out, I was WAY OFF from “crying wolf” and Ukraine and the free world paid a heavy price for not listening to a small group of people, being aware of the real sitaution on the ground …

A massive Russian army invasion started from exactly these areas, we predicted them to come from. The Ukrainian army strongholds of Savur Mohyla, Ilovaisk and Luhansk airport fell and with them some 1000 Ukrainian soldiers, a number, Europe has not seen in such a short period of time since World War II.

The below maps shows the (official Ukrainian army-reported) strategic situation, at the day of my interview with the BBC and today.

21.8.201415.12.2014

As you can see, “crying wolf” where there were tens of thousands of wolves, invading the Donbas region, didn’t help as there was either no political will to treat the situation as what it was (and still is!) or political incompetence, leading to the most crushing defeat of a European army in the 21st century.

Four months on, we are in another “ceasefire” that cost far more than 1000 people their lives, have a de facto pro-Russian regime in eastern Ukraine and still no political will to regain the lost land or – at least finally call a spade a spade.

What does this tell us for the future?

1st: LISTEN to people, opposing the common opinion in security-related issues, especially when they have inside information, mainstream media and seemingly even government intelligence do not have or is not willing to use.

2nd: Do not repeat mistakes, you have made once. Until the very day, Russia is claiming, it is not involved in the Ukrainian conflict and not responsible for the death of 1500-2000 Ukrainian soldiers, national guard troops and border patrol forces as well as thousands of civilians. They lied then and they lie today, which is such as evidently that even former close allies – like several European governments – are not willing to buy those lies anymore and put a range of sanctions on Russia, punishing its “meddling” in Ukraine.

3rd: Follow the example BBC and other established mainstream media companies, letting citizens and especially citizen journalists have their say, although it might contradict what most people think is “real”. Sometimes only a few boys (and girls) see the wolf coming.

AUDIO FILE: My interview with the BBC on August 21