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

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

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

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

russian railways

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

Unbenannt

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

Where does all this lead?

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

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

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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