War in Donbass expected by time of Russian elections – Popov


January 29, 2018 – Fort Russ – 

By Eduard Popov, translated by Jafe Arnold – 

In our recent articles, we have repeatedly stressed and sought to demonstrate that war is coming to Donbass – and soon. Our analysis has now been furnished with new, harrowing evidence, which deserves examination. 

On January 24th, the deputy commander of the Donetsk People’s Republic’s operative command, Eduard Basurin, announced at a briefing that the US State Department’s special envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, had discussed supplying lethal weapons to Ukraine and the beginning of a new Ukrainian offensive with the chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ General Staff, Viktor Muzhenko. 

According to Basurin, the offensive discussed by Volker and Muzhenko is intimately linked to the Ukrainians’ acquiring of lethal weapons from the Americans, which the Ukrainians think will significantly increase the combat capabilities of the UAF. Basurin also drew attention to preparations underway behind Ukrainian lines. In Basurin’s words

There are reports that covert audits of medical institutions in Mariupol and other nearby towns are being carried out to assess their capacity for receiving significant numbers of wounded. Moreover, these activities have already revealed a number of shortages in medicines and medical staff. Hence, we can conclude that Kiev is preparing another escalation of the conflict in Donbass in order to divert the population’s attention away from internal problems in the country. If these plans fail, imagine how the victims will be seen in the eyes of their Western masters.” 

According to publications throughout Ukrainian media, on January 24th the DPR declared a mobilization. My sources in the DPR have not confirmed this information. 

Ukrainian and Russian experts have presented different opinions on Volker’s role in the conflict, and some theories posit that he is actually trying to prevent Ukrainian generals from offensive plans. Why? Because the US – via its Ukrainian proxy – profits more from playing for the long haul and depleting Donbass and Russia’s physical and economic resources. 

Such explanations seem to me to be unconvincing. If one traces Volker’s activities, we can see a vey consistent, hard line of posing ultimatums towards Russia, and a complete lack of dialogue with the DPR and LPR. This strategy does little to achieve peace. 

Therefore, I think that Volker’s mission to Donbass is a militaristic one, and not for peacekeeping. Could he have discussed offensive plans with Ukraine’s General Staff? For obvious reasons, we cannot know the mysteries of American-Ukrainian kitchen talk, but I think that such a discussion could very well have taken place insofar as political results depend on discussing such technical issues. 

The leadership of the Donetsk People’s Republic has said that it is expecting a UAF offensive – even by the end of this month. Such an opinion has been expressed by my friends in the republic’s military and political circles. On January 24th, I discussed the same question with my colleagues in the Lugansk People’s Republic. They believe a Ukrainian offensive to be unlikely this month due to the severe cold, the high volume of snow, and the numerous snowbanks that have covered Donbass. From this standpoint, Ukrainian tanks would be too limited in their operations to wage a successful offensive. 

In a recent interview, I expressed my opinion that an offensive should be expected close to the date of presidential elections in Russia (March 18th). If the weather will be suitable, the chances of this will increase dramatically. 

The Ukrainians have pulled literally all of their forces up to the borders of Donbass and are evidently counting on a blitzkrieg. I think that their immediate goal is breaking the Donbass republics’ main forces in the first wave and launching a forced march up to the Russian border in order to not give Russia and the international community any time to address the situation, and to present the world with a fait accompli of a Ukrainian Donbass. We might recall that a similar tactic helped the Croats capture Serbian Krajina, and was attempted by Saakashvili’s Georgia, which tried to block the Roki tunnel and Russian columns from coming to the aid of peacekeepers and the civilians of South Ossetia. 

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At his recent briefing, Eduard Basurin said that the UAF will “bathe in blood.” Is this really so? In winter and early spring of 2015, my friends in the DPR military shared accounts of US counter-battery systems which posed quite a problem. American weapons have long since been present in the war in Donbass – only now the Americans have decided to openly admit such. 

For four years already, the US and its NATO allies have intensively trained the Ukrainian army, regularly held military exercises involving NATO and UAF troops, and occupied Ukraine’s training grounds. These efforts have not been in vain. Without American and NATO help – be it financial, technical, or in terms of training or the involvement of NATO instructors and commandos in combat operations – the UAF would have faced utter defeat back in 2014. 

Another factor is the increased experience of Ukrainian troops. My friends from the mid-level ranks of the DPR army suggested back in summer 2015 that the enemy’s level of combat training and motivation was improving, as some UAF units were equipped according to NATO standards and made very disciplined and steadfast. 

In parallel, of course, negative processes continue to plague the UAF, such as high non-combat losses, alcoholism, drug addictions, looting, and poor discipline. The presence of the latter can be explained by one simple reason: reluctance to fight and die for the sake of the oligarch Poroshenko. 

This should not, however, overshadow the growing combat effectiveness of certain UAF units. On the other side of the front as well, there are both positive and negative trends among armed forces. Overall, as regards the republics, they have not waste time. Their armed forces have been training constantly.

However, without timely assistance and volunteers from Russia, Donbass is unlikely to withstand a new Ukrainian offensive on its own. I am no military man and, perhaps, I am mistaken in my assessment of the combat potential of both sides, but it is clear to me that the Donbass republics are faced with the crucial task of forming reserve forces from Russia, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia as quickly as possible. As far as I can surmise, this work is already underway. 

It is unlikely that the Ukrainians will be able to keep the date of their offensive secret, as DPR and LPR intelligence is known for its keen work. What’s more, there is hope that anti-fascists from other countries will have time to deploy their resources and frustrate Ukrainian plans for a blitzkrieg. And then Russia can intervene. As President Putin adamantly stated, Russia will not allow a massacre in Donbass in the likes of what happened in the Balkans. 

With regards to the Ukrainians’ rear, without a doubt, Ukraine is in no position to independently fund its war. Ukraine lives and breathes debt. Nevertheless, large cash flows are streaming in from the West which are not reflected in the budget, because this money is for waging war. 

A year ago, when fighting broke out in Avdeevka, I tracked Ukrainian regional media reports on the problem of housing and treating wounded soldiers. Hospital physicians appealed to the local population to take in the wounded and help supply necessary medicines and hygiene products, bandages, and even drinking water. If Ukraine goes on the offensive, it will face an influx of wounded and dead on an incomparable scale.

In other words, Ukraine is not ready for war. Kiev is counting on aid from the West in exchange for its servitude as the “eastern shield” against the “Russian barbarians.” Ukraine pays for its confrontation with Russia in blood, while the West pays only in money. Such is the delegation of roles. The Ukrainian leadership is deeply indifferent to the fate of its wounded, so we can safely predict a very high death count in Ukrainian hospitals. 

All of this goes to show that Ukraine is objectively unprepared for war on its own. But, as our numerous analyses and Ukrainian actions have demonstrated, Western-dictated Kiev is evidently pushing towards war no matter the cost. As follows, the unpreparedness of the Ukrainian side testifies to the increasing possibility of the direct involvement of foreign forces. 

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The possibility of war breaking out over the next month or two is close to 100%. 

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 and Information Cooperation. 

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 Research Masters in Religious Studies and Western Esotericism at the University of Amsterdam. 

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