There has been a lot of alarming news about the Donbas situation lately. More and more information shows that the aggressor – the Kremlin – may essentially intensify hostilities. The latest statements and facts are proof of this.
“There were very difficult negotiations in Minsk today [August 3. – Ed.],” Yevhen Marchuk, representative of Ukraine in the security working group of the Trilateral Contact Group, writes in Facebook. “The Russian side categorically denies, as always, its involvement in this war and rejects even the obvious facts of its presence on the temporarily occupied Donbas territories. In this connection, I read out information from the so-called DNR’s website today at the meeting of the security working group conducted by Mr. Ertugrul Apakan, head of the OSCE Mission in Ukraine.”
The abovementioned website of militants says among other things: “Thanks to support from the Russian Federation, the DNR’s armed forces, particularly armored and artillery brigades, have essentially increased their capability, and the newly-arrived Russian volunteers were taught by Russia’s best instructors to defeat the enemy.”
The chief message of Mr. Marchuk’s words is not the obvious and cynical things that Russia and its puppet “DNR” resort to, but the fact that some Western politicians often let the Kremlin pull the wool over their eyes, calling the Russian aggression against Ukraine, for example, “internal conflict.” Naturally, this practice cannot help but arouse concern.
The Polish Gazeta Wyborcza also quotes a source close to Russia’s defense minister as saying that Russia is preparing for a big war. The source claims that Moscow is deploying 200,000 soldiers as well as missile and air force units near the border with Ukraine. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu spoke of Russian military reinforcements on the border with Ukraine recently. He said that, “in connection with a growing threat from NATO and Ukraine,” an army consisting of four divisions and nine brigades had been formed in the southern region. “The goal of these measures is obvious: the Russian side is forming on the northern border with Ukraine (where no troops were stationed as recently as three years ago) three main groups capable of launching a surprise attack in the direction of Kyiv and an army in the south to surround the main Ukrainian forces in Left-Bank Ukraine,” Russian military expert Ruslan Pukhov explains.
Meanwhile, the number of local residents who have suffered as a result of the Donbas armed conflict has reached a record high since August past year, the website of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights says. Sixty nine civilian casualties, including 12 killed and 57 wounded, were recorded in June 2016 – almost twice as many as in May. In July, the number of civilian casualties reached 73, including eight killed and 65 wounded. More than a half of all the casualties have been killed by artillery fire in the past two months.
As we can see, the aggressor has not abandoned its plans about Ukraine. The Kremlin’s goal is to destroy Ukrainian statehood or establish full control over it. It is applying various – informational, military, geopolitical – methods to this end. The ultimate aim of Russia is to undermine unity of the Western world, particularly as far as the Ukrainian question is concerned. The latest events – the situation in Syria, the developments in Turkey, Brexit in the UK, the migrants crisis in Europe, presidential elections in the US – show that it is succeeding in many cases. So, what can we expect Russia to do in the Donbas and what is Ukraine prepared to respond to this with?
“WE MUST RESPOND TO THE THREAT BY TAKING DETERRENT MEASURES AND FORMING THE NECESSARY GROUPINGS”
Ihor KABANENKO, Admiral, ex-Deputy Defense Minister of Ukraine:
“Russia continues to build up offensive groupings to accomplish specific missions – they will be deployed sooner or later. It is from this angle that the current situation should be viewed. Some are saying that a large-scale war is unlikely, but we must think of the better but prepare for the worse. Russia regards Ukraine as a ‘zone of Russian interests,’ so any scenarios are possible. Military art does not know such thing as deployment of troops for the sake of just concentrating them in a certain area, which involves spending a lot of money. We must respond to the threat accordingly – by taking deterrent measures and forming the necessary groupings that can neutralize this threat if any hostilities break out on land, at sea, or in the air.
“We are witnessing a new-generation war – a ‘hybrid war.’ On the one hand, various sources are trying to persuade us and offering ‘arguments’ that Russia must allegedly ‘defend itself.’ In terms of politics, Russia is saying one thing and doing quite another. For example, the idea that Putin ‘is tired of the Donbas’ should be viewed in the context of a hybrid face-off. This distracts people and lets them relax, but this ebb may be followed by a major high tide. The latter-day armed struggle is of a wavy nature: on the one hand, there seems to be a concentration on political steps and the gaining a political advantage, but then military force is used or at least conditions are created for this use.
“Modern-day crisis management calls for the formation of internal conditions for an offensive – creation and combination of the hotbeds of instability and then the use of military force under the pretext of ‘supporting and protecting the rights of the Russian-speaking population.’ Religious and any other problems can be raised.”
“A TOP U.S. DIPLOMAT TOLD ME THAT RUSSIA IS PREPARING AN OFFENSIVE”
Pavel FELGENHAUER, military observer, Novaya gazeta, Russia:
“There is a real military threat: Russia is really concentrating its armed forces in the south-western direction which includes the Caucasus, Transcaucasia, Turkey, and Syria. But Ukraine is very essential and crucial in this matter. Sergey Shoigu’s speech at the Defense Ministry session is not the only bad omen. Another bad piece of news is Vitaly Churkin’s official letter, dated July 22, to the chairman of the United Nations Security Council published on Russian mission’s website. Churkin describes the current horrors in the Donbas and puts the blame on Ukraine which is preparing a major offensive. Other Russian officials have also been speaking of this for a long time. This rather looks like an ‘official excuse’ in case large-scale hostilities break out in Ukraine, of which Churkin is ‘warning.’
“A top US diplomat told me recently that Putin had said the same to Obama on the phone past month. The same diplomat maintained that, according to US intelligence data, Russia, not Ukraine, is preparing an offensive. The Putin-Obama conversation may be an instrument of persuading Washington to exert pressure on Kyiv and demand concessions from Poroshenko.
“One more story is dismissal of Mikhail Zurabov, the Russian Ambassador to Ukraine. Moscow often changes ambassadors and other diplomats in the summer, but the dismissal of Zurabov was absolutely unprepared: Russia’s Foreign Ministry failed to ask for agreement in good time, and only a limited number of MPs were ‘dragged’ to the Duma, which had gone into recess on the eve of the elections, to approve the candidature of Mikhail Babich as new ambassador to Ukraine. Presumably, Zurabov was recalled so quickly because he was too friendly with Petro Poroshenko.
“Each of these signs may not necessarily be of a disastrous nature, but they are all unpleasant. So, it is quite likely that a major Ukrainian-Russian war will break out in August.
The current Russian regime will in no way allow Ukraine to integrate into Europe. The Kremlin told Poroshenko that they could make a deal of sorts, but Ukraine’s non-aligned status is the foundation of any agreement between the two states. Of course, like Transnistria, the Donbas will remain as part of Ukraine under Russian protectorate. The Kremlin has various options to achieve this goal. Many in Moscow are convinced (which the Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev said openly) that Ukraine will break up and the current regime will collapse as a result of political, economic, social, and other troubles. Why then risk and fight if you can wait a little? But the current situation shows that Ukraine is not going to break up.
“On the other hand, Russia is in a unique and favorable situation now, which resembles international events around Georgia in 2008: the Olympics, the US election race, and August with suitable weather conditions. America has divided in the course of the election campaign, and Barack Obama is a ‘lame duck.’ Of course, Russia may be hoping that Donald Trump will win in November, and it will be possible to make a deal with him on Ukraine. But Trump is unpredictable and seems to be heading for a defeat.
“Europe, too, is going through a time of troubles: rifts, Brexit consequences, migration crisis, sanctions, etc. Should Russia do something really big in Ukraine to topple the current regime, the West will be able to do nothing but shout out loud.
“Therefore, in the next few weeks Russia will face a strong temptation to solve ‘the problem of Ukraine’ by force. In all probability, Moscow may use increased hostilities in the Donbas as an excuse and announce that it can no longer put up with this and will launch a major ‘peace enforcement humanitarian operation,’ as it did in Georgia. To break the front line, the Russian army may deploy all of its resources, except for nuclear weapons, including more than 100,000 soldiers. Anyway, this will require a mighty force because the armed forces of Ukraine are no longer the same as in 2014.”