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Donbas situation update, Aug 7th

Donbas situation update, Aug 7th
Separatist/Russian areas July 13 – August 5

By Michael Hammerschlag

Russia has massed 20-40 thousand troops at the border and vehicles painted with white “peacekeeping” squares and blue discs are lined up and ready to go. Also, Russian UN Ambassador [Vitaly] Churkin won a UN Security Council emergency meeting on August 5 in which he demanded that it authorize “humanitarian forces” for Ukraine, but no action or vote was taken. Humanitarian forces that will kill people – big surprise – is straight out of the standard Soviet invasion playbook. The question is how long Putin will wait before moving. In Crimea, Ukrainians have already shown themselves almost incapable of fighting Russians but, in this situation, who knows.

Blue peacekeeping emblem on a Russian APC.

Ukraine should be training (also for the long-haul) guerrilla fighters who would station themselves along all border invasion corridors to hit and run from the woods – they could devastate the Russian columns flowing in. In fact, Ukraine should be arming loyal citizens in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts to snipe, blast, and sabotage separatist columns from their windows (or, better, from a separatist neighbor’s window), whenever there are easy targets. Faced with internal as well as external attacks, the separatists will fold quickly. In Luhansk too, separatist leaders whine about the quality and paucity of local fighters: “The locals are hopeless, they desert, they don’t want to fight, said one Moscow separatist mercenary to a shocked reporter, “Luhansk will fall to the Ukrainians!”

Donetsk awaits a serious siege. Ukrainian forces have tightened the ring around it, taking (then losing?) Yasynuvata in the north, with heavy fighting also taking place in the western suburb of Marinka. But the crucial cities of Shakhtarsk and Torez still remain in separatist hands, keeping Donetsk’s lifeline to Luhansk open. About 400 thousand of the city’s one million residents have fled, the separatists attacked and robbed the Médecins Sans Frontières [Doctors Without Borders] office, and they kidnapped a Red Cross crew. Great foresight – when they need medical help, there won’t be any professionals they haven’t taken away. Luhansk is also nearly completely encircled. Nobody wants to initiate the horror of major urban combat, but the clock is ticking. The key is to win very quickly so Putin is faced with a fait accompli and intervention is rendered moot. In the end, Putin doesn’t want to actually fight the Ukrainians, but just hold the positions of the separatists. Ukraine’s delay is intended to let the city be depopulated. The separatists weakest hand is their limited number of personnel. Kill enough of them and it doesn’t matter what gleaming [Russian] equipment they have; it will be abandoned in their flight. But with the borders still open, each day hundreds of new fighters have been streaming in from Russia. Local support has cratered as the Ukrainian DNR [Donetsk People’s Republic] boosters are exiled; the people realize it is just a foreign invasion and they were being played for fools (Novo-Rossiya [New Russia] is still Stary-Rossiya [Old Russia]). Hopefully some are providing good intelligence to the ATO’s call-in numbers to set the stage for some smart commando actions. In a clear sign of local ambivalence, Strelkov has been caught moaning that of 4.6 million people in Donbas, they could only get 1100 volunteers – the result being that the “separatists” are now 80-90% Russian!

Soon a collector’s item?

I was just begging [US President Barack] Obama (Happy birthday, Mr. Prez) for HARM anti-radar missiles to destroy the Buks and Strelas (from a distance of 30km), and attack drones (for surveillance or targeting of separatist leaders), A-10s (ground-attack jets with a 30mm cannon firing 70 depleted uranium rounds per second, shells that can shred tanks from 5km away, 30mm titanium armor – jets so tough they still can fly without one engine, one tail, and half of one wing!), and a few cruise missiles to give Strelkov or Antyufeyev a bedtime kiss. The White House phones and fax seem blocked from any foreign or anonymous phone (“not a working number”), but it turns out things are not much different from inside America – you just have to autodial for two hours at 4 AM. Unfortunately, Obama just said military gear for the Ukrainian army was not needed, again telegraphing his lack of resolution to our enemies.

The USAF’s A-10: a workhorse for eastern Ukraine?

Russia has embargoed fruit and veggies from the European Union, Ukraine, and the United States (extended to all food). The Russian diet is going to be thin this winter – why they think these embargoes will hurt anyone but themselves is a mystery. Having to buy bananas from Syria or South Africa at $10/kg should boost Putin’s popularity, not dissimilar from the state of the former Soviet Union too – a superpower lacking toilet paper and fruit. Empire membership has its privileges.

Russia’s stock market is crashing again, Aeroflot had to shut down a discount airline that flies to Crimea because of sanctions (adding to the region’s touristless economic devastation), and the Kremlin went berserk over a pro-federalization rally in Novosibirsk (which wants to keep its bonanza of diamonds, gold, oil, and gas rather than ship it all to Moscow).

Then there is the very strange story of about 430 Ukrainian 72nd battalion troops at the border. They were so fiercely attacked and cut off by separatists on August 4 that they were forced to retreat into Russia. Some have been returned, others are hunger striking – at first Russia sweetly said that they had defected. The ATO has more Eastern refugees fleeing to Russia, 165 thousand, than within Ukraine, 132 thousand, though those numbers are soft and fluid. [Ed. note: And hotly debated.] Let the ones in Russia stay there – I hear pensions are better. The Rada [Ukrainian parliament] has wisely refused to accept [Prime Minister Arseniy] Yatseniuk’s resignation. He has led ably in this difficult time – better than I would have thought – and the government’s resignation has only served to provoke accelerated Rada elections in October, necessary to clean out the Party of Regions and Communist thieves, traitors, and deadwood. Amazingly and alarmingly, however, demagogic showman Lyashko’s party currently leads with 23% to Batkivshchyna’s 13% and UDAR’S 11%.

President Poroshenko on the hunt.

Michael Hammerschlag’s articles ( have appeared in NYT, IHT, Seattle Times, Providence Journal, Columbia Journalism Review, Yahoo, Hawaii Advertiser; Moscow News, Tribune, Times, and Guardian, Novaya Gazeta; Kyiv Post, Kyiv Weekly, Politics in Ukraine, and Business Ukraine. He’s spent 9 of the last 23 years in Russia and Ukraine, has covered this story since (FULL COVERAGE) November 1st, wrote 2 long articles on the EU Association Agreement and Crimean Invasion for Yahoo, and warned of Ukraine’s loss of Independence in May 2010 after Yanukovych’s election.

Edited for ease of reading by Andrew Kinder and Elizabeth Martin





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