Popov: “War in Donbass has been postponed, but not cancelled”


January 24, 2017 –

By Eduard Popov for Fort Russ – translated by J. Arnoldski – 

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has signed a decree establishing a separate military air zone codenamed “East” in the skies over the republics of Donbass. The zone spans from the outer boundary of the coastal marine waters of the Azov Sea 12 nautical miles to the nearest point on the border with Russia. The newly created zone complements the existing military air district and the three military air zones “South,” “Center,” and “West.”

Let us identify the motives behind this decision and predict its consequences. 

The military-organizational aspect does not appear to be the main factor in this decree. Thanks to the armed forces of Donbass, Ukraine has practically no air forces left. Officers of the Ukrainian army themselves have admitted this. The same goes for the Ukrainian “navy” even though there is an enormous number of naval officers and admirals in Ukraine. This indirectly confirms that the contrivance of the military air zone is a bluff and self-promotion operation.

As with everything that is done in Ukraine, there is more PR and advertising here than rational thought. Poroshenko, I believe, will use his own decree as an occasion to emphasize to the West that the main threat to Ukraine comes from the East. Perhaps this is another attempt to pave Ukraine’s way into NATO. 

Poroshenko’s decree undoubtedly contradicts the spirit and points of the Minsk Agreements whose cornerstone point is the demilitarization of Donbass. 

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In Europe, between the “Berlin two” (Hollande and Merkel) who will soon enough resign, this decree violating the Minsk Agreements probably won’t be taken note of. But the administration of the new US President, Donald Trump, will take note – I hope. Then the Trump Administration will only be more convinced of the opinion that Ukraine is a huge territory of absurdity and chaos. But Poroshenko’s decision overall will not cause serious international repercussions. 

Nevertheless, this news is disturbing insofar as it fits into the general picture of what is ongoing in Ukraine and is a continuation of the tactic of provoking Russia, similar to Ukraine’s recent missile firing exercises near the land and maritime borders of the Republic of Crimea. Sooner or later, these provocations could escalate into a major war.

My friends in the military circles of Donbass expect a Ukrainian offensive. This offensive was expected literally a week ago. There are more than enough signs that Ukraine is preparing for war: the concentration of military vehicles and manpower near the demarcation line, constant seizures of the “gray zones,” and reconnaissance attempts via forays are the most prominent warnings. An offensive in Donbass was even pointed out to be linked to Donald Trump’s inauguration but, according to one theory, Ukraine was not allowed to start a new war.

Coincidentally or not, on January 19th Sergey Shoigu arrived in Rostov, where the Russian Southern Military District Headquarters are located, as the newly-appointed commander of the district. Shoigu visited the recreated 150th Berlinsko-Idritskaya motorized infantry division stationed near the border with Donbass. This division, according to media reports, was also visited by European and Ukrainian observers who were conducting a check up on Russia’s military activity on the borders with former Ukraine.

If Kiev really had planned to start a new blitzkrieg against Donbass, this would have been extremely reckless at the time given the well-trained, fully-stocked division just across the border. Russia cannot allow for the death of (in the least least) dozens of thousands of civilians in the Donbass republics which would be the inevitable consequence of a Ukrainian offensive. In May and the summer months of 2014, Russia already faced a flood of refugees from Donbass which far outnumbered the migration flows into the EU. A new offensive by the Ukrainian army would be even more bloody. This is why I am convinced that Russia has already been conducting preventative work without which war in Donbass would have already long since broken out.

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But equally true is the fact that the state of “neither war nor peace” cannot continue forever. The war will resume sooner or later. The ruling Ukrainian regime is caught between the hammer of military defeat in Donbass and the anvil of being overthrown by a new Maidan in Kiev. I am sure that the second threat is more terrifying for Poroshenko and co. Therefore, the war in Donbass has been postponed, but not cancelled. 

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