|“There is no cauldron, Mister President!”
February 12, 2015
Translated from Russian by Kristina Rus
The situation in Debaltsevo may overturn all Minsk agreements
During the entire Minsk negotiations Ukrainian General staff disinformed Poroshenko about the situation in Debaltsevo, and the most important trump card in the hands of the President of Ukraine turned out to be a bluff. UAF was not able to crack open the cauldron, and it has turned into the most sticking point of negotiations, which may turn everything agreed upon in Minsk upside down.
Poroshenko’s perception of reality was ultimately shattered by his propaganda trip to Kramatorsk in the company of the chief of the General staff Muzhenko and a French philosopher-Russophobe Bernard-Henri Levy. The President of Ukraine is a man not too brave, very emotional and gullible. What was originally conceived as “pumping” of Western public opinion with all the classic moves of PR campaigns, turned into a psychological trap for himself.
The Minister of Defense and head of General staff, spurred by Turchynov, had promised the President to carry out the operation, which will deblock Debaltsevo, and at the same time “will pay back for Kramatorsk.” When Poroshenko was already flying to Minsk, he was convinced that it is enough to buy some time and the attack on Logvinovo will end in complete victory, and he will get a new starting position for negotiations. Throughout the entire night Poroshenko checked for updates from his General staff, but victory did not come. It hasn’t come by morning, and a light bulb went off: something is not right, the cauldron does exist! Although he has already for 10 hours told respected people that it did not.
One can only guess about the motives of the security block of Ukraine for disorienting and misinforming their Commander In Chief. The dominant conspiracy theory: Turchynov, actually managing the security block, thus was buying time, following the general American line. More down to earth and realistic version: it was a traditional (of all times and all peoples) aspiration of parquet generals to please and ward off accusations, glossing over reality. Considering the general panic mood, combined with an unbridled propaganda, it is much more likely than a transatlantic conspiracy about Debaltsevo cauldron. The Ukrainian command also doesn’t quite understand what is happening. There is no connection with some units for more than a week, and if there is, it boils down mainly to cries for help and heated exchanges about “who is to blame”. The chain of misinformation may well start from the very bottom, gradually accumulating “meat”. And to treat any information in a favorable light is a very common mistake of bad scouts and analysts. The past six months revealed much about the strategists of the Ukrainian General staff.
All night from Wednesday to Thursday UAF tried to exert pressure upon the entire front line. A formation of two thousand from Svetlodarsk, which was assembled by UAF for almost a week, went head on to the strongholds and minefields of NAF at Logvinovo, but the militia has also strengthened this position in recent days. NAF even managed to transfer significant reserves to Uglegorsk. As a result an attack on Logvinovo from two sides (there was also an attack from Debaltsevo, but very unconvincing) was stopped only by the morning. By this moment Poroshenko got his own localized apocalypse.
UAF also tried to attack directly from Lugansk through the infamous village of Schastye, simultaneously firing on the city from MLRS, which has not happened for six months. UAF command, as it turned out later, believed that LPR units were too busy near Debaltsevo and Bakhmut highway, that supposedly weakened defense of the direct road to Lugansk (this is, again, another demonstration of the low level of Ukrainian intelligence and strategic analysis). Battalion “Azov” again imitated the offensive on the coastal route through the neutral zone with the same results, as a few days ago. These people are generally more prone to simulate turbulent activity than to thoughtful action.
Where UAF is not capable of real activity, the pressure was carried out using MRLS and heavy weapons. For example, Peski, Opytnoye, Donetsk itself, Gorlovka, Yenakievo, Makeevka, Dokuchayevsk, and Dzerzhinsk were heavily shelled.
Vladimir Putin, appearing to the press after the talks, openly called on the Ukrainian side to allow troops in Debaltsevo to surrender, or to arrange an organized exit. Poroshenko wanted to turn the situation around Debaltsevo into his almost only trump card, and in the end it became a monstrous failure. In fact, regardless of what and in what language is written in the agreement of the contact group, Debaltsevo cauldron may turn into a huge mass grave in the next two days, because none of the demoralized generals (as Poroshenko himself) will give an order to surrender. And to organize a controlled exit of the Ukrainian troops from the encirclement in such a short time is impossible. Soldiers are not concentrated in any one place, but scattered in groups by checkpoints, many without communications, without commanders and without ammo. Even if they can scavenge some food at homesteads, no one will bring them ammo or medical supplies. In the steppes there is dirt and slush, to detour the positions of the militia on the road to Logvinovo through fields is impossible, even if there was fuel. Militia doesn’t even need to use heavy weaponry, it is enough to gradually cut off one checkpoint from the another.
After the defeat of Ukrainian attack on Logvinovo a real danger emerged to get a second cauldron in Svetlodarsk, which would trap this other “deblocking unit”, that was built up over a week. Another thing is that it is problematic to create a new operational encirclement of a large formation in two days, and any offensive action by NAF will now be associated with hysterical information uproar in Ukraine, although UAF themselves have failed at Uglegorsk, Logvinovo, and now of Svetlodarsk. Only officers and soldiers can explain to the Ukrainian public that “a cauldron – is no good”, but if they start talking, it will seem more like a riot, and in a hysterical atmosphere no one will listen.
It is interesting, that a new offensive on Logvinovo was started by UAF immediately after the announcement of the results of Minsk talks, sometime around noon. Commander Semen Semenchenko – one of the most active “Twitter warriors” – said that the Ukrainians had already taken Logvinovo and are “carrying out a sweep”. In reality, the situation remained exactly what it was, a new attack on “cauldron lid” is purely political in nature.
Thus, a small village Logvinovo on the highway Debaltsevo – Artemovsk turned for Poroshenko into a “new airport“, only now these attacks also have a purely military, practical value.
Poroshenko will be now learning about the difficult reality with apparent difficulty and reluctance. For him this reality, among other things, is dotted with various “red lines” which he can’t cross even verbally. The military situation had become a taboo, although it remains a key part of the agenda. Even the questions of the political status can be brushed off, creating “joint commissions” including representatives from DPR and LPR, but the front line requires immediate decisions. Sometimes everything depends not on big ideas and global plays, but simply on the human qualities of a particular politician or officer. But a commander in chief of the Ukrainian army, alas, got this position as a figure of compromise and was controllable from the start. He, as a person, may want to achieve something. To preserve peace in Europe, for example. But it is beyond the range of circumstances and human power.
Debaltsevo cauldron has evolved from a military operation of a local value into the main factor of political settlement. What will happen there in the next few days (or rather, what steps will Kiev take to change the situation) will determine the further balance of power. To demonstrate DPR and LPR in the face of Europeans as “wild barbarians”, and Russia as the aggressor will not work anymore. You were given options – it’s your choice. Even Zakharchenko and Plotnitsky were brought to you for negotiations, and in the end we got a vague paper signed by Kuchma, whose position at the moment is – a retiree. “Ratified verbally” certain agreements – it’s such a fresh and new phenomenon in international diplomacy that all textbooks should be rewritten.
To seriously discuss the details of pulling the heavy artillery to some distance from the front line (lines?) is pointless. As well as to discuss clause-by-clause an agreement, from which there will not even be a memory left in a short time. Yes, the Ukrainian troops will be pulled from the actual line, but Ukraine’s control over the border with Russia can only be restored after a constitutional reform, guaranteeing new status for Donetsk and Lugansk. That is, “money – in the morning, chairs – in the evening”.
A much more important question, is how long can the state of “no peace, no war” hold. To predict it now is extremely difficult, it all depends on many factors, including purely private, invisible to the naked eye. Most of these factors are now in Kiev. What will happen to public opinion, if the losses exceed all reasonable limits? When and on what conditions will Debaltsevo surrender? How hard will the Parliament groups fight against the bills on the new status of Donbass, and how will Poroshenko cope with it? There is a myriad of these key elements. Especially that in reality there is no monitoring mechanism for the removal of heavy weapons from either side. OSCE can not monitor the ceasefire: tanks and 80 mm mortars will remain at the contact line, which do not fall under the category of “heavy artillery”, and in an urban setting – they are terrible, deadly weapons. A mine doesn’t break the asphalt, but bounces from it. Shrapnel flies in all directions parallel to the ground, and people lose their legs.
All this looks like a new calm before a big war.