Mercury Rising 鳯女

Politics, life, and other things that matter

24 hour hours of bedlam until the resumption of war

Posted by Charles II on February 13, 2015

Added: Saturday afternoon our time is when the cease-fire is supposed to happen. Keep praying. There are up to 8,000 men, most of who probably don’t want to be fighting, trapped there.

The New York Times has indirectly confirmed that the Kiev Army attempted to relieve the Debaltsevo garrison. Michael Gordon and Andrew Kramer:

Some of the heaviest fighting broke out along a poorly defended, 31-mile Ukrainian supply route into Debaltseve within hours of the signing of the peace agreement.

Soldiers and medical crews interviewed at a hospital in Artemivsk say the rebels now control the road, and as evidence pointed to the ambulances and resupply trucks blown up by mines that now pepper a stretch of the route.

The Ukrainian military was reeling from the assault. Rumbling over the snowy steppe, a line of rebel tanks assaulted one Ukrainian stronghold on the road, according to soldiers interviewed on the steps of a hospital in Artemivsk.

Soldiers hunkering down in pillboxes at positions along the road were trying to hold out until Saturday…

But why would the soldiers be “reeling” unless they were trying to travel a road that was already controlled by the rebels? One doesn’t “reel” from defensive positions that one is holding. Indeed, Gordon seems to confirm this this by saying that the rebels control the road. He continues:

After the overnight talks, Mr. Putin said Mr. Poroshenko refused to acknowledge that the separatist forces had surrounded up to 8,000 Ukrainian soldiers in Debaltseve, but the Russian leader said he hoped that consultations between military commanders would settle that matter.

As the Russian military and separatist forces have pressed the attack, Western officials have become increasingly worried that Mr. Putin is seeking to seize Debaltseve before the cease-fire begins, expose the weaknesses of Ukraine’s forces and deal a political blow to Mr. Poroshenko.

Poroshenko has consistently denied that Debaltsevo is surrounded.

There is one good thing in the Gordon/Kramer article:

The Russians have insisted they are not assisting the separatists, and there were no first-hand reports of Russian troops engaged in battle. But in a proxy war, NATO and Western analysts say, Russian troops have consistently operated in the background, supplying, training and guiding the rebels.

This is an important distinction, and one that stands in distinction to the Brookings/Chicago/Atlantic report, which specifically said that “regular Russian army units entered the Donbas, and attacked and inflicted heavy casualties on the Ukrainian military and Ukrainian volunteer battalions.” Gordon and Kramer have to some degree refuted such claims by challenging the claim that Russian troops were directly involved. Now, I suspect that there are Russians operating as a command cadre. But it’s one thing to suspect, and another to know. Let the Obama Administration present the evidence, rather than hustle us into a new war.

Meanwhile, the State Department is trying to give “hypocrisy” a bad name. Let’s stipulate at the outset that the involvement of Russian equipment, trainers, and perhaps combat troops is illegal and destructive. But what to make of this from the BBC?

A consignment of former British military Saxon armoured vehicles has been delivered to Ukraine, the Ministry of Defence has confirmed.

But it said these were out-of-service unarmed vehicles and were not lethal equipment.

So, what are they going to use them for? Taxis? Bread delivery? No, much more likely, Kiev will equip them with weapons, turning them into lethal equipment. And the Brits are delivering them at exactly the moment that the U.S. is complaining about Russian provision of equipment.

The Poroshenko government is making it clear exactly what they think of freedom of the press. KyivPost:

Ukraine’s authorities arrested a second Ukrainian journalist on charges of treason today, according to the reporter’s employer in St. Petersburg-based news agency Nevskie Novosti. The agency said that Andrey Zakharchuk had been accused of “inaccurately reporting events in Ukraine.”

Zakharchuk’s arrest comes hot on the heels of treason accusations brought on Feb. 8 against Ivano-Frankivsk resident Ruslan Kotsaba, detained after he posted a video address to Ukraine’s President Poroshenko opposing conscription in Ukraine. Kotsaba claimed he would rather spend up to five years in jail for refusal to be drafted into the army than start killing his “fellow citizens who live in the east.”

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Rebel sources from Eastern Ukraine are claiming to have beaten back an attack designed to relieve Debaltsevo. For example, Colonel Cassad:

1. Despite the talk of absence of the encirclement, the junta failed to unblock the M-103 road and capture Logvinovo. Fairly serious attempts have been made, which were triggered both by the military necessity of saving the encircled Debalcevo group and by political reasons, because unblocking the pocket until February 15th will allow the junta to claim that it holds the remaining part of the Debalcevo protrusion for the period of the next “truce”. Correspondingly, military and political necessity will push the junta towards maximally intense attacks by the Svetlodarsk group on Logvinovo, Nizhnyaya Lozovaya, and the high points in the area of Sanzharovka.

He also says that Kiev shelled rebel cities.

And also (Vladislav Shurygin, writing at the pro-rebel Fortruss):

from the early morning until almost 17 o’clock there was intense fighting for Logvinovo. Ukry threw all of their reserves for a breakthrough – no less than three battalion tactical groups numbering up to eight hundred people, with the support of not less than forty tanks. According to the militia, fresh, well-armed and well-trained battalions went in the battle.

Despite the fact that they had to advance practically in the open, in full view of the heights held by the militia, under crossfire, they rushed forward with exceptional persistence, ignoring the losses, skillfully using terrain folds and maintaining tactical order.

According to intelligence, these were shock battalions, which the Ukrainian command was saving for a decisive offensive. These battalions have completed a full course of study under the guidance of American and Polish instructors on Yavorovsky base and were recently covertly relocated to the area of the ATO.

But despite the surprise attack, and its strength, the Ukrainian storm-troopers failed to break through the defense of the militia.

Cassad is promising video.

And, weirdly, there is no discussion of any of this in the Kyiv Post or in much of the western media. The Kyiv Post is reporting a tank battle east of Mariupol, and has linked western sources regarding the death of a child in shelling. Reuters reports:

Two people were killed and six wounded when a shell hit a cafe in the Kiev-controlled town of Shchastya near rebel-held Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, a local official said, adding that other shells had struck elsewhere in the town.

The rebels accused Ukrainian forces of shelling the separatist stronghold of Donetsk and the town of Horlivka, where they said on their website that three children had been killed.

Fighting was intense around Debaltseve, a railway junction linking the two main rebel areas, where separatists used rockets and artillery to attack government forces holding the town.

“Rebels are repeatedly storming the strongholds and base camp of Ukrainian forces,” in and around Debaltseve as well as firing artillery, mortars and rockets, Lysenko said, stressing that government troops had held their positions.

There’s almost total reliance on Kyiv sources, and not from independent journalists. Notice that The BBC isn’t much better, though they do say that “BBC journalists in Donetsk heard new shelling on Friday morning” in Donetsk, implying that they actually have someone on the ground. AP is better. It focuses on rebel attacks on Debaltsevo, but concedes that Debaltsevo is encircled and that fighting is going on along the highway. They say that a map included in the agreement was leaked by Kiev, and that that shows Debaltsevo on the Kiev side of the line. WaPo is vague to the point of being useless.

Al Jazeera captures the critical point raised by the rebels in my previous post. If Debaltsevo is closely encircled, then its troops will be in automatic violation of the ceasefire agreement, since they can’t separate their lines to the indicated distance. If the town is not closely encircled, then at the conclusion of the ceasefire, they can walk out of the town without crossing rebel lines. If they’re not surrounded, why is there fighting along the highway?

I’ll go with AP’s judgment Debaltsevo is indeed surrounded and that Kiev is using its best troops to try to relieve them in time for the Sunday cease fire.

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