Donbass Battles. The Decision Approaches.



Donbass Battles. The Decision Approaches.

By Yurasumy

Translated from Russian by J.Hawk

The last two days saw rather active combat operations by
both sides. Novorossia forces spent them testing the Ukrainian defenses for
weak spots in order to determine where to launch the main blow. At the same
time they were tying down Ukrainian reserves along secondary sectors of the

Before the beginning of the active phases of the operation
(beginning of January), Ukraine managed to create up to 10-12 BTG (battalion
task groups) in their operational and strategic reserves. Due to the growing level
of activity on the front caused by Novorossia offensive operations near
Donetsk, Gorlovka, Debaltsevo, Bakhmutka (the Lisichansk-Lugansk road),
Schastye, Granitnoye, Mariupol, Ukraine had to “spend” 8-10 of its reserve
BTGs. This allowed the junta to stop forward movement by Novorossia forces, and
launch counterattacks in some places (Bakhmutka, Peski, Elenovka).  At the same time the main Novorossia reserves
are still undergoing their concentration phase and are constantly maneuvering
in order to avoid enemy artillery strikes.

Artillery deserves special attention. Positional warfare
implies this arm acquires a special role. Up to 80% of casualties on both sides
were caused by artillery fire. Whichever side is superior in artillery duels
will ultimately win the entire battle. The number of “tubes”, the level of
training, command and control systems, quantity and quality of ammunition, all
of those are components of victory or defeat. Ukraine has problems with each of
those components. This was evident in the outcome of the first battles. The
fire damage caused by Novorossia artillery was key to the militia victory at
Donetsk Airport. Ukrainian forces were pushed back around Bakhmutka also thanks
to artillery fire. The enemy notes the well coordinated and skillful work of
Novorossia artillery crews, describing them as Russian contractors (the highest
praise a Ukrainian soldier is capable of).

A few words about junta’s counterattacks. What do they
signify. They signify that their generals have common sense and understand that
remaining on the defense facing superior Novorossia artillery is suicidal.
Therefore they have to attack. Novorossia is in effect provoking the enemy to
be active. Having forced them to bring up mobile reserves which are now exposed
to continuous artillery fire, they left the enemy no choice. Ukrainian forces
have to either retreat, which is unacceptable for political reasons, or stand
and wait until they are destroyed by endless shelling, or to counterattack with
some hope of success, which is what they do. So far with mixed results. I
expected such a turn of events because I, unlike many other writers, do not
consider Ukrainian generals to be idiots. It’s obvious that will not save the
Ukrainian army, but will delay Novorossia’s decisive success. Introducing
reserves allows the junta to control the situation for maybe three more days
(assuming the intensity of the battles will not increase). Then they will melt
and time will come for more active Novorossia operations which the Ukrainian
army will have nothing to repel. So far we are observing meeting engagements
around Elenovka, Maryinka, Bakhmutka.

We are also seeing signs of disorganization of the chain of
command of Ukrainian forces. Here what the editor-in-chief of,
Yuriy Butusov, writes on his facebook page (between various patriotic “nonsense”),
which I view as a positive development:

“The Ukrainian army turned into an armed Maidan. In the
absence of competent leadership each military unit lives its own life. The key
figures in the Ukrainian army and the national guard are company and battalion
commanders. Their personal qualities fully determine the conduct of operations
on a given sector of the front. If the commander has initiative and
independence, inadequate higher command cannot get in the way of effective
fulfillment of combat missions and preparation. Where a good commander is
missing, the combat worthiness of the unit is only nominal and depends on
various factors.”

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Ukraine also has a problem in that the level of training and
political reliability of different units varies widely. Therefore the junta has
to employ “barrier detachments” (noted in Debaltsevo sector, where Ukrainian
forces face the most difficult situation). That, and sizable reinforcements,
stabilized the front around the Debaltsevo salient for a while, but whose
opening is slowly narrowing. The key point Troitskoye is still under junta
control, although they faced a crisis two days ago when they could have lost
control over that town. From the other side, Novorossia was able to push junta
forces back and now the Artemovsk-Debaltsevo road is not quite under their
control, but certainly under their artillery fire (when there is no fog). There
exists a real danger of encirclment at Debaltsevo, especially if Novorossia
commits its main reserves to battle.

Just to clarify. The Debaltsevo salient is a mousetrap for
Ukrainian forces. The junta cannot deploy heavy artillery units in the salient,
and long-range artillery outside the salient is insufficient to support troops
within it. It means that, no matter what reserves are thrown into the salient,
they will sooner or later be destroyed by Novorossia artillery which is
overwhelming on this sector of the front. The only option is to ATTACK. A
suicide option, to be sure. But it’s a chance to inflict significant losses on
the militia and pin down reserves which Novorossia has prepared for the

Ukrainian forces concentrated powerful reserves (up to 5
BTGs) in the vicinity of Donetsk, which allowed them to launch a counteroffensive
near Peski and push Novorossia forces back. Simultaneously there are maneuver
battles to the west and south-west of the city, but without results.

Gorlovka. This is the main Ukrainian headache. The large
Novorossia reserves assembled here can attack in three directions and sooner or
later they will show their power, but for now they are waiting. They are
waiting for their hour, which has not yet come.

Mariupol can become the main prize of the winter battles.
But it’s still too early to speak about that (although Ukrainian sources talk
of a sizable increase of Novorossia forces on this sector). The main blow
should be around the city (Dokuchaevsk-Granitnoye), not frontally. But there’s
time for everything.

Novorossia forces conduct shellings and attacks around
Schastye and Stanitsa Luganskaya. So far without major results.

A few words about losses. The junta lost 1800 soldiers by
January 21, of which 500-600 were killed. In the last week their losses totaled
another 2000, of which 500-600 were killed. Most of the killed are still on the
battlefield and cannot be evacuated.

For example, Ukrainian remains are still being found at the
Donetsk airport. They already carted out 100 corpses. And it’s not the end.

Novorossia losses are harder to estimate, since there are no
open sources, and Novorossia keeps its secrets better than Ukraine. But judging
by the intensity of the battles and the nature of operations we can assume
significant losses here as well. No less than 200-300 killed, and no fewer than
1000 wounded.

Civilian casualties are the simplest to count—nobody bothers
to conceal them. According to DPR representative Basurin, “the number of
civilians killed can be counted in hundreds.”

Only three individual provocations (Volnovakha, Bosse,
Mariupol) took the lives of more than 50 people. And those were only three
fateful minutes. The multi-week shelling of Gorlovka, Donetsk, and other cities
add to the list every day.

P.S.: Judging by the events on the front in the last few
days, one can conclude the Ukrainian reserves are drawing to a close. As soon as
that happens (under continued Novorossia pressure) Ukrainian forces will start
experiencing problems that may very quickly turn into an Ilovaysk-scale

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