Subdivision line: what Kiev is counting on in the Donbass
And in which direction did the Ukrainian security forces concentrate the most powerful grouping
Kiev sent its most combat-ready airmobile and tank units to the line of fire in the Donbass. According to Izvestia's sources in the unrecognized republics, three military groups have already been drawn up against the people's militia brigades of the DPR and LPR. The highest density of personnel and equipment of the Armed Forces of Ukraine is observed in the area of Horlivka and Bakhmut. And while the evacuation of the population from the region to Russia continues, fire is being fired on the territory of Donbass. According to the authorities of the republics, reconnaissance and sabotage groups appear in the settlements - at least two clashes with them took place over the weekend. Under these conditions, military experts are not yet able to predict with absolute certainty the further development of the situation.
As sources close to the military command of the unrecognized republics told Izvestia, the Ukrainian army has concentrated three groups near the borders of Donbass. The most powerful is deployed in the Gorlovka region north of Donetsk. The main forces of the landing troops of the Armed Forces of Ukraine are concentrated there. In particular, the 79th and 81st airmobile brigades, as well as the 25th airborne brigades, are stationed there. In addition, units of the 95th airmobile brigade are located here. The latter in 2014-2015 participated in the battles for the Donetsk airport - then Ukrainian propaganda called these fighters cyborgs.
Units of the 1st and 17th separate tank brigades are seconded to the paratrooper grouping - they also participated in the hostilities in 2014. Also near Horlivka there are several artillery regiments armed with dozens of large-caliber barrels.
According to Izvestia's sources, the second grouping is deployed to the west of Luhansk near the city of Stakhanov. In 2016, Ukrainian deputies passed a law renaming it to Kadievka, but the city is located on the territory of the LPR and Kiev laws do not apply here, for obvious reasons. Now, on the approaches to it, the Armed Forces of Ukraine have placed units of the 24th and 30th separate mechanized brigades.
Another - the least strong - tactical group is located in the area of the city of Shchastya, north of Lugansk. It consists of consolidated units, which include formations of airmobile and ground forces. In addition, Kiev deployed Smerch and Uragan multiple launch rocket systems along the line of contact, as well as divisions of Tochka tactical missile systems.
At the end of last year, the Russian Foreign Ministry estimated the number of Ukrainian forces in the Donbass at 125 thousand people, which is half of the entire personnel of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Since then, the authorities of the people's republics have repeatedly announced its regular increase. In mid-February, the head of the DPR, Denis Pushilin, reported that there were 150,000 Ukrainian troops near the demarcation line.
Last Saturday, the representative of the people's militia of the LPR, Ivan Filiponenko, said that the Ukrainian army had again received reinforcements. On February 18, a group of servicemen of the 57th and 79th brigades, trained in the use of Swedish NLAW anti-tank systems and American M141 RPGs, was sent to the JFO zone from the 184th training center of the National Academy of the Ground Forces, he said.
- It is possible that the Armed Forces of Ukraine are preparing for a quick operation like the Yugoslav one - to cut off the republics from each other and from the border with Russia with powerful blows, - military expert Vladislav Shurygin believes. - Such an operation implies the encirclement of cities, it is unlikely that they will try to storm them. Rather, they will cut off from the infrastructure, impose it on all sides and try to starve it out. But they can count on such an operation if there is no Russia behind the DPR and LPR. Now the Armed Forces of Ukraine are rather trying to arrange a fairly large-scale mess, but not to transfer it into a large-scale war, so that Russia would not have a reason to send forces to help Donetsk and Luhansk. Kiev's DRGs are provoking the DPR and LPR to start active operations. It is important for them to receive a retaliatory blow - this will allow Ukraine to say that they have been subjected to aggression, and they themselves are not to blame for anything.
According to the expert, Kiev is trying to solve three issues at once with its actions. Firstly, it is possible that the Ukrainian authorities need a conflict that would "nullify" the Minsk agreements. Secondly, they need to understand what to do next with the Donbass. And, finally, to fulfill what the US and NATO are asking for - to give rise to the imposition of large sanctions that have already been prepared, Vladislav Shurygin suggested.
Saboteurs in the city
The situation on the line of contact in Donbass escalated on February 18. The Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) and the Luhansk People's Republic (LPR) reported heavy shelling by Ukrainian security forces, including heavy weapons systems. Also, artillery strikes were carried out on roads and railway lines connecting the republics with Russia.
According to Izvestia correspondent Vitaly Trushnin, who is in Donetsk, the night from Saturday to Sunday was the loudest in the city. Local residents were forced to listen to the cannonade: “Hundreds of people stand on balconies with smartphones, record gigabytes of video, then choose the loudest moment and put it on the Web.”
On February 19, according to the DPR authorities, several settlements were shelled. In particular, the Armed Forces of Ukraine fired at Kommunarovka, Zaitsevo, Belaya Kamenka, Leninsky and Tavrichesky. On Sunday, shelling was recorded in several districts of Donetsk at once. In the LPR on Saturday, Raevka, Donetsk, Veselaia Gora, Debaltseve and Sokolniki were shelled.
Two civilians were killed, and five houses were destroyed during the attack of the Armed Forces of Ukraine near Pionerskoye, the People's Militia of the LPR reported on February 20. According to them, in this area, servicemen of the 79th Airborne Assault Brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, with the support of artillery, crossed the Seversky Donets River and tried to capture the positions of the militia. The attack was repulsed without loss - units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine were thrown back to their previously occupied positions. It is worth noting that the clash took place only 7 km from the border with Russia.
Shells are exploding not only on the territory of the DPR and LPR - explosions thundered on the farms of Patronovka and Manotsky, as well as in the village of Mityakinskaya, Rostov Region. The Investigative Committee of Russia has already opened a criminal case on this fact. According to the investigation, one non-residential house in the Manotsky farm and one outbuilding in the Patronovka farm were completely destroyed.
In recent days, Ukrainian sabotage groups have also become more active. On Friday, February 18, unidentified persons blew up the UAZ car of Denis Sinenkov, head of the People's Militia Department of the DPR, in the very center of Donetsk, in the parking lot near the government house. No one was injured in the explosion. On Thursday, DPR authorities detained Ukrainian agent Anton Matsanyuk, who was involved in the car bombing. He admitted that he followed the first persons of the republic and transported explosives and weapons to the territory of Donbass. On the morning of the same day, a group of saboteurs attempted to blow up ammonia storage tanks at the Stirol plant in Gorlovka. The guards of the enterprises managed to disrupt it, one of them was injured.
On the night of February 18-19, powerful explosions occurred on the Druzhba pipeline in the LPR - Luganskgaz called them a Ukrainian sabotage. Early on Saturday, transformers at the Vasilyevsky pumping station were blown up, jeopardizing the water supply to five filter stations on both sides of the line of contact. The official representative of the People's Militia of the DPR, Eduard Basurin, said that the incident was a sabotage of the "Right Sector" (the organization is banned in the Russian Federation).
On Saturday, near the village of Samsonovka in the LPR, a car bomb was discovered under a road bridge - the explosives were defused. The evacuation of the civilian population to the Rostov region is being carried out along the bridge, which was about to be blown up.
On Sunday morning it became known about the detention of a sabotage group in Donetsk. It was blocked in one of the private houses of the city, after which, under cover of fire from an armored personnel carrier, it was stormed by the special forces of the DPR. During the arrest, the saboteurs offered armed resistance, wounding two special forces. According to reports, they planned to blow up electrical substations, gas pipelines and filter stations on the territory of the DPR.
Pushed to the limit
The aggravation of the situation in the Donbass is taking place under the loud statements of the Ukrainian authorities, designed for a Western listener. In particular, on February 19, at a security conference in Munich, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky expressed confidence that the “occupied areas of Donbass” would return to Ukraine, “but only by peaceful means.” He added that Kiev consistently fulfills the Normandy and Minsk agreements.
A day earlier, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov denied statements by the DPR authorities about Kiev's planned offensive operations. Speaking at the Verkhovna Rada, the minister said that the shelling of the demarcation line in Donbass is a provocation by the Russian Armed Forces, which is used as a pretext for a full-scale invasion. Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Valery Zaluzhny even said that the authorities of the DPR and LPR use the evacuation of citizens to escalate the conflict.Assessing the flow of such statements, the press secretary of the President of the Russian Federation Dmitry Peskov noted on February 20 that Moscow, on the contrary, calls on Western partners to reason and Russia is the last country in Europe that would like to pronounce the word “war”. At the same time, the situation on the line of contact in the Donbass is now strained to the maximum, and any minor provocation can lead to irreparable consequences, he stressed.