Why is Ukraine holding on to Donetsk airport?



War in the Donbas

Article by: Zhanna Bezpyatchuk

Kyiv – Former head of the Donetsk Oblast State Administration Serhiy Taruta claims that half a month ago an agreement was reached to exchange the International Donetsk Airport for other territories occupied by pro-Russian mercenaries, however it is not being executed, as the Ukrainian side does not want to give up this location. At the same time the NSDC claims that the possibility of exchanging the airport or any other territories is not subject to discussion. The Luhansk OSA states that the same possibility is not being examined in regard to the town of Shchastya, where the separatists currently control the higher peaks. And the Ukrainian fighters who are defending the roads to the airport, as well as the object itself, as Radio Liberty managed to find out, has a negative attitude towards the ideas of exchanging it, just like before. 

Former head of the Donetsk OSA Serhiy Taruta says that he does not understand why the Ukrainian government continues to hold onto Donetsk airport. He said this in an interview to Komersant.

“As I see it, they don’t want to give it up, which is why they advance towards the airport everyday. Only why do they want it, if the entire infrastructure there was destroyed and it cannot be used for any flights,” says Taruta.

At the same time, according to him, before, an agreement had been reached to exchange the airport on other mercenary-occupied territories. These talks took place 1,5 months ago. At first they discussed the option of return Novoazovsk to Ukraine in exchange for part of northern Donetsk oblast. Later they wanted the Ukrainian side to give up the airport.

“I don’t understand why the government refuses, however, such talks did happen, they occurred, this was accorded, but for some reason this side doesn’t want to give in. There was an agreement that first they give in to us, and then we hand over the airport,” said Taruta.

However, Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak soon after his appointment excluded the possibility of handing Donetsk Airport over to the mercenaries.

“This airport is a symbol of the courage and heroism of our soldiers. We need it, this airport, and we will defend it,” he stated.

The Minister emphasized that the Armed Forces had reached such a high level that they are able to retain this object under their effective control for a long time.

NSDC: the possibility of exchanging Donetsk Airport is not being discussed

However, spokesman of the NSDC Information Center Andriy Lysenko told Radio Liberty that any territorial exchanges are not being discussed at the moment, just like they had not been discussed 1,5 months ago.

“We are not examining the possibility of exchanging Donetsk airport for any localities or of exchanging any other locations, as according to the agreements signed in Minsk on September 5, and the September 19 Memorandum, this is not required. The demarkation line at the moment of the signing remains in the same place, and no territories are part of the ‘DNR’ nor do they belong to the Ukrainian government,” emphasized the NSDC spokesman.

Andriy Lysenko explained that the demarkation line at the moment of the agreements includes 15 kilometers on either side, the distance to which the sides of the conflict have to remove their heavy equipment. If the Ukrainian army controls the airport, then, having counted 15 kilometers, the mercenaries should remove their equipment all the way to Lenin Square in Donetsk. As such, almost one-third of Donetsk will remain in this buffer zone.

OSA spokesman: the issue of territorial exchange is not discussed in Luhansk oblast

Besides Donetsk airport, there are several more strategic objects which are constantly under fire on part of the illegal armed formations, who are constantly trying to take them away from the Ukrainian army: the railway station of Debaltseve and the town of Shchastya near Luhansk, where the Luhansk thermal power plant is located. The pro-Russian mercenaries currently control all the high points over Shchstya.

As such, first command of the 2nd regiment of Aydar volunteer battalion Yevhen Dyky assumes that the Ukrainian army may have to retreat from Shchstya.

“We might have to give up Shchstya, as it is very inconvenient in terms of defense. It is located on a low bank and can be fully fired at from high rises on the other side. The term ‘high points’ is not abstract. Those who are high above shoot at those down below. Now all the high rises on the left bank of Siversky Donets are in the hands of the separatists. The only thing that helps is that there is only one bridge and it is ours, the enemy simply finds it difficult to traverse the river,” he said.

Radio Liberty asked Luhansk OSA spokesman Yaroslav Halas whether Luhansk oblast was examining any options for the exchange of territories, first and foremost, Shchstya.

“Here in Luhansk oblast this issue was never raised by anyone, and never discussed, especially with the other side, the ‘LNR.’ This is 100% true,” said the Luhansk OSA spokesman.

Mashovets: the issue of territorial exchange is political

Information Resistance group coordinator, military expert Kostyantyn Mashovets told Radio Liberty that the issue of exchanging the airport for other territories is essentially political. From the military viewpoint, according to him, there is a point to retaining this object until it causes severe casualties to the Ukrainian side.

“It is politics. I cannot tell you this. We have to correlated the expediency of holding on to this position and receiving control over other territories, so correlated the political expediency of territory exchange with the military, operative expediency of holding onto them,” the expert notes.

He adds that the Ukrainian forces could theoretically leave the airport, retreat a couple of kilometers and obtain a new defense line if needs be.

Whom to exchange territories with? The gangs fight among themselves – Hay

Volunteer Miroslav Hay, who is in the village of Pisky, where the Ukrainian fighters are defending the approaches to the airport and where fire from artillery and machine guns on part of the ‘DNR’ do not stop for a minute, told Radio Liberty that the defenders of the airport know about the idea of exchanging it for Novoazovsk and consider it negatively.

“They have a negative attitude towards the because if there was a normal order to advance, this territory would have been ours a long time ago, so under our control, at least this is what the military guys are saying. I mean the airport and the adjacent territories, Donetsk territories as well. The guys say that they can fight well. The separatists are fighting among themselves, and this is obvious, we see it all the time, their shootings. We have a so-called ceasefire with them, with some of them. Some do not follow the conditions of this ceasefire, as there are many gangs here, various groups,” said the volunteer.

Translated by: Mariya Shcherbinina
Source: Radio Liberty

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  • Milton Devonair

    Ukraine doesn’t want to give up their land in Ukraine because, well, it’s Ukraine. Are all the apes from russia this ignorant?

  • Brent

    Any ‘giving up of territory’ will be seen as acceptance of the legitimacy of the terrorist DPR and used by them and their Kremlin overlords as propaganda. Why should Ukraine negotiate to give up any of its sovereign territory? Doesn’t that dishonor the brave soldiers who fought so bravely and many of which have given their lives for this?

  • Kruton

    Build the defences,prepare the counter attack.

  • Murf

    Trading the Airport for territory may have been a good idea month go but events gone WAAAYY past that point.
    This situation is a n example of how UA should fight the war at least until the spring.
    Strategic defense/tactical offence.
    This is a limited war now there are “thresholds” that can only be crossed very carefully. Putin will only intervene when the Rebels are on the verge of collapse. The west will increase sanctions if Putin goes so far which is why he has not invaded Ukraine properly.
    Within these thresholds, both sides can act rather freely. Hence nobody is to excited bout the small scale battles going on in the not-so-ceasefire.
    However even in limited war you must maintain control to the tempo of the battle.You must chose the time, place and extent of the fight. You always fight in ground of your choosing.
    So I call the strategy Strategic Defense/Tactical Offence.
    Strategic Defense: Driving the Rebels out of Ukraine is not possible AT THIS TIME. Ukraine needs to remain on the defense. If there is a piece of real estate that the Rebels want hold it at all costs. Make them pay for it dearly. Check Point 32 is an example. They wanted it so keep sending in reinforcements. Turn the area in to a charnel house. Each sector should have a Rapid reaction force that can quickly move to a threatened area. This should be at least a company team of a platoon of tanks 2 platoons of mechanized Infantry a section of three self propelled guns,D-30s and a Engineer platoon. When ever a position is being repeatedly attack the Sector RRF moves in to a striking position and a a very inconvenient (for the Rebels) moment counter attacks. After a few counter attacks the Rebels will learn some manners and be forced to commit more men and equipment to defend against the RRF. The more resources they pour into the battle the more likely they will open a weak spot.

    Tactical Offence: the nature of war is you cannot be strong every where. he a weak area is identified a assault is mounted. The area should be important the the Rebels, be easy to defend once taken and hope fully useful enough to make it worth fighting for.
    the assault force should be a battalion team same as the RRF but companies instead of platoons. with full SP battery 6 tubes and a GARD battery minimum (more the merrier)
    After a through reconnaissance, a well thought out and rehearse plan. the Assault Battalion makes a rapid move to the target area. They launch an intense artillery barrage and don’t get to worried collateral damage. Then the main attack goes in fast and hard. Once the target is taken the area rapidly fortified until the hoped for counter attack begins.
    Think Azov’s assault on Mariupol or the Iloviansk before the Russian invasion.
    The assault battalion will need to be VERY good as they will have to move fast and be aggressive.
    After an attack the rebels will be forced to spread out to over more areas.Reducing their able to concentrate for their own attacks, keeping them off balance.

    Just some ideas in case some body with actual authority is reading.