MOSCOW, October 13 (RIA Novosti) - Six months have passed since the start of a massive mop-up operation in southeastern Ukraine. The operation has claimed the lives of 3,000 to 5,000 people, including civilians, soldiers and militia members, as well as the passengers of the Malaysian Boeing that crashed in the sky above Donetsk on July 17.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
Exactly six months ago, on April 13, following the capture by the self-defense forces of administrative buildings in the Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv regions, Oleksandr Turchynov, the then acting president of Ukraine, announced the start of a so-called anti-terrorist operation (ATO) with the involvement of the Ukrainian army. The country’s new government demanded that the militias lay down their weapons and leave the buildings.
Two days after the launch of the ATO, Slavyansk (Donetsk Region) was encircled by more than 2,000 Ukrainian troops with large numbers of armored vehicles, including heavy-duty equipment, and members of the military themselves called it a “punitive operation”. The Ukrainian forces largely outnumbered the non-professional self-defense forces.
Forced to fend for themselves, the militia captured the city administration building in Luhansk on April 29, and on May 1 took over the building of the regional prosecutor's office in Donetsk. Ten days later, referendums on self-determination were held in both regions. The Donetsk and the Luhansk people's republics (DPR and LPR) were proclaimed, and an agreement on the establishment of the Novorossiya Union was signed.
THE SPIRIT OF THE MILITIA VS. ARMY WEAPONS
A representative of the militia and a source in the Ukrainian Defense Ministry told RIA Novosti that both sides of the conflict used obsolete weapons dating back to the Soviet era. However, unlike the militias, the Ukrainian army had heavy-duty equipment and aircraft at their disposal, which significantly improved their odds early on in the special operation.
However, as little as six months later, 70 percent of their military equipment was destroyed or taken by militias as trophies. According to Igor Korotchenko, director of the Center for Analysis of World Arms Trade, the Ukrainian president tried to offset these enormous losses by ordering arms supplies from Eastern Europe.
Korotchenko said that Poland supplied Ukrainian forces with T-72 tanks. “Under these circumstances, [Ukrainian President Petro] Poroshenko is doing his best trying to get replacement equipment,” Korotchenko said, noting that “Since the Ukrainian industry can provide nothing, Poroshenko relies on under-the-table supplies of Soviet armaments from Eastern Europe”.
According to Korotchenko, unlike Kiev forces, the militia has improved a great deal over the past six months. In addition to weapons and military equipment, they have gained combat experience, which to this day helps them to resist Ukraine’s demoralized army.
"Today, the militia has high morale and coordinated actions, and their commanders and troops have acquired combat experience and the taste of victory,” Korotchenko said, adding that “The Ukrainian army and National Guard have been demoralized”.
“ALL OF UKRAINE WANTS PEACE"”
Following the talks of the trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine (Russia-Ukraine-Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe, or OSCE), the sides signed a ceasefire agreement in Minsk. As promised by Poroshenko, the agreement was supposed to last indefinitely. Moreover, the document said that the parties agreed on improving the humanitarian situation in Donbas.
“The entire world wants peace, all of Ukraine wants peace, including millions of Donbas residents,” the Ukrainian president said. “We must do everything that we can to stop the bloodshed and the suffering of the people.”
However, experts interviewed by RIA Novosti did not believe that the ceasefire will be complied with fully. Alexander Perendzhiev of the Association of Military Political Scientists stated that the ceasefire won’t even last for a week.
“Most likely, the agreement will be complied with for some time, perhaps with separate incidents of minor violations,” he said. “But I don’t think that the ceasefire will last long. The fighting will resume. I give it five days, no more.”
MORE THAN 330 VICTIMS OF THE CEASEFIRE
The experts' forecasts came true quickly. The first night of the official ceasefire, sources in DPR headquarters told RIA Novosti that an exchange of fire was reported from different cities in the region. However, that night was calmer than before: no artillery shelling was heard in the Donetsk city center.
The last hope for peace in Donbas crashed following a statement made by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
“From mid-April to October 6, 3,660 people died and 8,756 were injured,” the OHCHR press service reported. “Since the announcement of the ceasefire, 331 fatalities have been recorded from September 6 to October 6.”
Despite daily reports of deaths and injuries, neither the warring sides, nor the international community have officially acknowledged the violation of the ceasefire.
“UKRAINE WILL NEVER LET NOVOROSSIYA GO”
Even before the ceasefire was announced officially in southeastern Ukraine, Konstantin Sivkov, Vice President of the Academy for Geopolitical Issues, stated in an interview with RIA Novosti that the armed conflict will end with Novorossiya victorious.
According to Sivkov, this is due to the lack of an effective operational command in the Ukrainian Army.
“The anti-terrorist operation in Ukraine is led by amateurs and mercenaries,” Sivkov said, adding that “The [Ukrainian] army is not focused on conducting combat operations”.
According to Sivkov, the only reason why the conflict has lost its intensity is the realization that continued military actions would result in only more losses, and both sides have had enough of them over the past six months.
Sivkov is generally convinced that the conflict in Donbas will become a low-intensity war, and its outcome will be clear soon. “Novorossiya will win within a year from the start of the conflict,” Sivkov predicted.
Anatoly Tsyganok, head of the Military Forecasting Center and Assistant Professor at Moscow State University’s Department of World Politics, said that the parties realized that the peace process would not last long as they were signing the Minsk agreements. “Otherwise, why would Poroshenko keep asking for arms supplies from NATO?” Tsyganok noted.
He added that when he addressed the US Congress, the Ukrainian president asked the White House to provide the Ukrainian army with arms, including lethal weapons.
US Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Derek Chollet said that the US authorities are working on a program that might include arms supplies to the Ukrainian government.
Tsyganok said that the military face-off will be suspended for the winter.
“I admit that the conflict will be discontinued in the winter because Ukrainian roads are becoming impassable even for tanks. However, the fighting will resume with renewed vigor in spring,” Tsyganok said, adding that he is concerned that “Ukraine will never let Novorossiya go off on its own accord.”
Tsyganok expressed confidence that both sides will take this out on each other as a result of personal losses for many years to come. “Southeastern Ukraine will become for the rest of Ukraine what the Gaza Strip is for Israel, and the pain caused by this splinter will make itself felt for the next five to seven years,” Tsyganok said.