Boris Sokolov: The tragedy in Mariupol has demonstrated yet again that the people who live in the Donbas in whose defense the separatists are purportedly fighting are but trifling expendable objects the separatists and their supporters, the Moscow leadership like to use for their PR objectives. For Zakharchenko and Pushilin & Co. the lives of those people aren’t worth a cent.
First the separatists shot up a bus near Volnovakha. Mistakenly, according to them, because they thought they were firing at a Ukrainian checkpoint, but got the bus instead. And even though the OSCE Mission has clearly stated that the missiles came from separatist-controlled Dokuchaevsk, nevertheless, as is their habit, those same separatists blamed the Ukrainians for the deaths of the civilians. Then ‘for the sake of symmetry’ the separatists intentionally shelled a bus stop in Donetsk. But they miscalculated, anyway, because the maximum distance from which a grad missile can be fired is 8 km and the Ukrainian forces were positioned at least 15 km away. In the end it was crucial for them to come up with the version that a wandering subversive group of insurgents fired the missiles which of course no one believed except the Russian officials and the brainwashed-by-the-Russian-propaganda zombies who live in occupied Donbas.
A provocation in Donetsk was needed to justify Russia’s rejection of both the ceasefire and the Minsk agreement and to validate an all-out offensive in the region. And the shelling of Mariupol was a planned attack, too, meant to terrify the local population. It was hoped that the people would be frightened and would flee. It was further hoped that the evacuating public would clog the highway with their cars thus blocking access to Mariupol for the Ukrainian forces. That is not an original idea. In 1940 when Germany invaded France the Germans incited panic among the French so that the fleeing refugees would get in the way of the retreating French troops, slowing them down. It’s true that the Wehrmacht broadcast propaganda on the radio to terrify the French and scattered bogus brochures everywhere with the prophecies of Nostradamus while the separatists in Donbas decided to use more radical methods. And in this case the OSCE Mission correctly determined where the shelling of Mariupol came from. After which the leader of the Donetsk separatis rescinded his previous statement about the separatist offensive on Mariupol and laid the blame for the shelling on Ukrainian forces calling it a provocation.
After all that has happened in Ukraine I think it will be impossible for Ukraine and the west not to state publicly that the DPR and the LPR are terrorist organizations, and the implication of that is that no negotiations will be possible. The Kremlin is not about to negotiate, anyway; the Kremlin wants war. The capture of Mariupol will provide a land corridor to the Crimea. The encirclement and destruction of the Ukrainian troops numbering 7 to 8 thousand soldiers in the Debaltseve area (which is the next step the Russian army and the separatists will take) would, according to the Kremlin, force the Kyiv government to capitulate.
The terms of surrender would roughly sound like this: Ukrainian anti-terrorist operations must be terminated, the entire Donetsk and Luhansk region must be transferred to the jurisdiction of the separatists granting the region broad autonomy that would include their right to block major decisions the central government makes, the right to have their own armed forces, the right to conduct international relations and to conclude international agreements including the right to join the Eurasian Union and the Customs Union. A surrender under those terms would most certainly result in a change of government in Kyiv.
To counter the current threat of war it is critical that the Ukrainian forces win at least a local battle. The Ukrainians have the necessary criterion for that. Most of the Ukrainian soldiers and officers are much more motivated and have better fighting skills than their opponents – the Russian army and the separatists. The Russian army is in Donbas illegally and it is not at all clear whether in the event of death or injury the state would care for the victims. The main point is that they are fighting half-heartedly, and they are fighting Ukrainians who until recently were considered to be ‘brothers.’ On top of that the separatists are made up of criminal trash and anarchists who have little regard for military discipline. Add to all of this that this time Putin is not interested in waging an all out war with Ukraine which if launched would provoke even tougher sanctions against Russia and would require 10 to 12 thousand troops, the same number that was used back in August and September when Russia won substantial gains. With 18,000 of its own troops the Ukrainian army would be able to resist such a challenge.
What the Ukrainians desperately need is a competent command staff and changes in military tactics. The current Chief of Staff of the Army Viktor Muzhenko is lauded only by the pro-Russian trolls in Ukrainian social media. A detailed analysis of Muzhenko’s strategy in the battle for the Donetsk airport has been made by the Ukrainian journalist Yuriy Butusov. The paramount duty the acting Chief of Staff of the Army has is to command a battalion. His management style often leads to tragic consequences as we saw in the ‘Ilovaisk Cauldron‘ [the Ukrainian troops were encircled and massacred]. It is because of Muzhenko that the Ukrainian army employs the old Soviet defense tactic of ‘fight to the death!’ and stretches its line of defense evenly along the entire front line. In the war in Donbas a very low density of troops is being utilized making it easy for the opponent to surround and lay siege to any point of resistance. It is critical for Ukrainian troops to conduct defense operations proficiently, defeating the opponents’ strike forces by utilizing compact, strong divisions that can be easily maneuvered. And if the Ukrainians succeed in destroying at least one local division of the Russian forces in Donetsk the Russian soldiers might be demoralized to the extent that along with pressure from western countries Putin might be forced to stop the war in Donbas.
It seems that the Ukrainian army either has a secret order not to take any Russians captive or indeed not to advertise the fact that they are holding Russian prisoners of war captive. It might be that President Poroshenko is still hoping for some sort of compromise with Putin and does not want to aggravate the conflict with Russia. The chances for that are very slim. The president should be doing just the opposite. Even now when there is no united Ukrainian front even when the enemy is on the offensive the Ukrainians still have the capability of capturing Russian soldiers by utilizing their special forces. And those captives should be shown as much as possible both in the regular media and in social media as evidence that Russia is participating in the war. They should be made available for interviews with foreign correspondents to demonstrate to the whole world that Russia is directly involved in the war. Hopefully under pressure from public opinion western leaders would be forced to escalate the sanctions against Russia. In the meantime, after yet another tragedy, this one in Mariupol, all we have is inadequate standard statements issued by government representatives about the need for applying more economic pressure on Russia. And even after the tragedy in Mariupol the emergency meeting of the foreign ministers of the European Union on the situation in Ukraine has been postponed until the 29th of January.
EMPR, O.R. contributed to this article.
Original article in russian language is available on grani.ru