CONFIRMED: Ukraine invades 2 neutral villages, Donetsk promises retaliation


November 27, 2018 – Fort Russ – 

By Eduard Popov – translated by Jafe Arnold – 

Amidst the recent events in Lugansk which have culminated in a change of government, the Ukrainian side has taken advantage of the temporary, relative disorientation of Donbass to attempt offensive operations. Ukrainian troops have since confirmed that they’ve seized two villages over the past three days, Travnevoe and Gladosovo, which are located in the designated neutral or “gray” zone in Donbass. 

The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission has not considered these advances and the capture of residential areas to be in violation of the Minsk Agreements.

Judging by the now public admissions of Ukrainian soldiers and militants from the Ukrainian Nazi battalions, a fairly large-scale offensive operation was being prepared while Lugansk was embroiled in its “coup.” The result of the intended Ukrainian operation was supposed to be the capture of considerably large areas currently controlled by the republics of Donbass. Like always, however, the Ukrainians wanted a lot, but only managed to acquire a little. 

At any rate, this is a success for the Ukrainians, albeit a minor one compared to the original plans. As follows, Donetsk has since been compelled to respond. On November 27th, the head of the Donetsk People’s Republic, Alexander Zakharchenko, promised a symmetric response to the Ukrainian armed forces’ capture of “gray zone” positions. Zakharchenko is quoted as stating: “Since the OSCE believes that Kiev’s actions do not violate the Minsk Agreements, but are a mere ‘improvement’ of the Ukrainian side’s positions, we too will in turn…begin to improve our positions.” 

How real is Zakharchenko’s “threat,” and are these fighting words or only propaganda? 

Until very recently, the republics of Donbass were firmly committed to not responding to Ukrainian provocations, i.e., to not returning fire. Zakharchenko himself, rumors around Donbass say, has personally gone to frontline positions and ordered soldiers not to return fire. Sometimes, however, discipline is breached, as in the case when a column of 57 UAF armored military vehicles and their ammunition stores were set alight on November 6th. 

Most likely, Zakharchenko’s statement is only an expression of protest against the stance of the OSCE mission which has taken Ukraine’s side and repeatedly turned a blind eye to obvious violations of the Minsk Agreements. This is something of, as we say in Russian, a “thousandth Chinese warning”, which the head of the DPR has been compelled to voice. Indeed, Zakharchenko’s sticky position is nothing to be envied. As my friends in Donbass who knew him “in action” say, Zakharchenko is a martial and brave officer who is now coping with playing the role of a politician who needs to force the Donetsk army to hold its positions. 

As has been the case for more than a while, only the Donbass republics are observing the Minsk Agreements, while Ukraine simply violates the ceasefire’s basic provisions and deliberately tries to provoke the republics to return fire. The OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission’s stance is therefore one-sided and, to those unfamiliar with their reputation, might even look strange. The mission simply “doesn’t notice” Ukrainian conquests of villages in the DPR, as recently happened, and sticks around Ukrainian positions, like in Avdeevka in January

As we have reported numerous times, the Lugansk People’s Republic has pointed out a “strange” pattern in which OSCE SMM patrols always happen to be in a place where, when they leave, Ukrainian shells come raining down. It is increasingly obvious that the mission is collaborating and coordinating its actions with the command of Ukraine’s “Anti-Terrorist Operation.”

The only other force that even more openly and one-sidedly dances to the tune of the Ukrainian side is American diplomacy. The US’ special Ukraine envoy, Kurt Volker, has refused to meet with representatives of the DPR and LPR or even visit the republic’s territories to see things with his own eyes. Even when the OSCE SMM alleges violations by both sides, i.e., adheres to a bare minimum of “objectivity”, Volker remains unabashedly biased. One is tempted to call him the Ukrainian side’s “lawyer”, although this formulation is fundamentally incorrect. After all, it is Volker and the US making Ukrainian policy in Donbass. The Ukrainian authorities are only a tool of American policy.

Despite the strictly defensive strategy of the Donbass armies, US Congress is still considering supplying Ukraine with lethal weapons. In fact, according to my contacts in the DPR militia, since early 2015 the Ukrainians have been shooting at Donbass with American weapons and using American counter-artillery mechanisms. Nevertheless, the beginning of open US lethal weapons deliveries to Ukraine would open a new page in the conflict in Donbass. 

Now back to Zakharchenko’s “threat.” I believe that we will have at least a partial answer to the question of the seriousness of Zakharchenko’s statement only once we start to see changes in the political scene in Donbass. If the expected unification (or at least closer cooperation) process is launched between the two Donbass republics, then this will suggest a toughening of Donbass’ stance towards Ukraine’s actions, and a preparation for the future. 

Donbass will not abandon the Minsk Agreements – that is for sure – but it will evermore stringently prevent Ukrainian violations of Minsk. I’ll leave this open to interpretation. 

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On the other hand, if a federation of Donbass is not established or if “Novorossiya” is not revived in one form or another, then the status quo can be expected to be maintained. 

Eduard Popov is a Rostov State University graduate with a PhD in history and philosophy. In 2008, he founded the Center for Ukrainian Studies of the Southern Federal University of Russia, and from 2009-2013, he was the founding head of the Black Sea-Caspian Center of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, an analytical institute of the Presidential Administration of Russia. In June 2014, Popov headed the establishment of the Representative Office of the Donetsk People’s Republic in Rostov-on-Don and actively participated in humanitarian aid efforts in Donbass. In addition to being Fort Russ’ guest analyst since June, 2016, Popov is currently the leading research fellow of the Institute of the Russian Abroad and the founding director of the Europe Center for Public Initiatives. 

Jafe Arnold is Special Editor of Fort Russ, Special Projects Director of the Center for Syncretic Studies, and the founding Editor-in-Chief of Eurasianist Internet Archive. Holding a Bachelors in European Cultures from the University of Wroclaw (Poland), Arnold is currently undertaking his Masters in Western Esotericism at the University of Amsterdam. 

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