Silent Advance Part III – Russian forces advance towards Avdeevka

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

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

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

spartak

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

before

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

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

bridgeafter

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

Advertisements

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.

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 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!