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Archive for the ‘Russia’ Category

A spreading stain/ in the Ukraine

Posted by Charles II on April 17, 2015

Robert Parry, Consortium News:

The U.S.-backed Ukrainian government came up with a curious way to commemorate the 70thanniversary of the Holocaust being brought to an end. The parliament in Kiev voted to extend official recognition to Ukrainian fascists who collaborated with the Nazis in killing Jews.

…On April 9, the Ukrainian parliament passed a bill making the ultra-nationalist Ukrainian Insurgent Army eligible for official government recognition, a demand that has been pushed by Ukraine’s current neo-Nazi and ultra-nationalist movements, the same forces that spearheaded the overthrow of elected President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 and then the slaughter of thousands of ethnic Russians who resisted the new order.

It now appears that pro-government “death squads” are operating with impunity in Kiev.

Ukraine was the site of several major Holocaust atrocities including the infamous massacre at Babi Yar in Kiev, where local Ukrainian fascists worked alongside the Nazi SS in funneling tens of thousands of Jews to a ravine where they were slaughtered and buried.

I’m not sure what to make of the neo-Nazi presence in Ukraine. It’s not hard, for example, to find neo-Nazis in the American military. They send their guys there to train for the grand RaHoWa. The difference is when government starts to sanction this sort of thing. The Kiev government is so desperate and so anti-Russian that they are sanctioning way-out-of-the-box things just to keep from falling. But at some point one has to ask whether the people in charge are being expedient– or whether they support neo-Nazism.

We should also be asking the American government where they stand… especially since it is alleged that the U.S. military will be training the Azov Battalion.

Posted in Russia, Ukraine | 3 Comments »

The Maidan killings

Posted by Charles II on April 11, 2015

A great unresolved question is who killed the protesters in Kiev as part of the run-up to the coup against the elected President, Yanukovych. Via the Kyiv Post, film maker Evelina Nefertari has compiled the existing video into Altitude October Palace (in Ukrainian, alas).

The Kyiv Post states:

The videos show protesters being shot and killed on Instytutska Street by snipers behind police lines at 9:01 – 9:16 , and 9:20 – 10:38. The timeline also incorporates an ntercepted [sic] radio communication between snipers of the Security Service of Ukraine’s Alfa special unit unit starting on the 11th minute.

I really can’t see that, partly because I don’t know the geography or the players. And the story that the snipers were pro-Yanukovych makes very little sense to me; nor would the overthrow of a government be legitimate even if the snipers were pro-government; otherwise the U.S. government should have been overthrown after Kent State. But this is a start for understanding how the protests went down and perhaps finding the perpetrators.

Posted in Russia, Ukraine | 3 Comments »

Gunboat diplomacy, but with tanks

Posted by Charles II on March 13, 2015

I don’t like it when the U.S. does it.

I don’t like it when Russia does it.

Posted in Russia, Ukraine | 2 Comments »

Report: Major Russian military intervention in Ukraine began in mid-2014

Posted by Charles II on March 11, 2015

Via The Guardian, a report by Igor Sutyagin of the Royal United Services Institute claims that:

intervention by Russian troops in combat roles then followed in the middle of August, when the prospect of
rebel defeat had become realistic.

The first phase of large-scale incursions by regular Russian troops commenced on 11 August 2014 and has involved a substantial array of forces (see Table 1). Elements of some Russian reconnaissance and special operations units have operated on Ukrainian soil since 14 July (at the latest), comprising teams generated by six units.

Following their increasingly large-scale, direct and conventional involvement in combat against Ukrainian troops in the middle of August 2014, Russian troops in Ukraine numbered between 3,500 and 6,000–6,500 by the end
of August 2014, according to different sources.

That number fluctuated, reaching approximately 10,000 at the peak of direct Russian involvement in the middle of December 2014.

Now, I don’t know if this is just the same stuff we have gotten from General Breedlove. A journalist who I trust says that it looks like it’s from the Mighty Wurlitzer. But one estimate of troop strength is from Lt. Gen. Frederick “Ben” Hodges, Commander of the U.S. Army in Europe, so it’s not from the intelligence-free NATO command that Breedlove represents.

The rebel side has expended a lot of energy in denying that Russian troops are present in any significant numbers. This report is a direct challenge. To be fair, according to the WSJ, Sutyagin was accused of espionage by his native Russia, and is living in exile. He’s not a completely disinterested party. But it all depends on his sourcing. He is not the story. If his sourcing is bad, then the question of why RUSI and The Guardian are pushing it is the story.

For what it’s worth, I have consistently said that I thought that Russian intervention began in mid-summer (see here for an example, though I didn’t specify a time or a scale). However, I have guesstimated overall troop strength at about 1,000, those in the form of deniable “volunteers.” I would be surprised if there were over 10,000 troops there, and if they were there on that scale, the US should be able to show us–its citizens– the massive number of mechanized vehicles (51 total units, including four armored and 12 rocket units, not to mention airborne troops!) that Sutyagin proposes are involved. If we don’t see the evidence, we should assume this is another mobile biological weapons lab.

Posted in Russia, Ukraine | 3 Comments »

General Strangelove and the lovely war in Ukraine

Posted by Charles II on March 7, 2015

Matthias Gebauer, Christiane Hoffmann, Marc Hujer, Gordon Repinski, Matthias Schepp, Christoph Schult, Holger Stark and Klaus Wiegrefe, Der Spiegel:

… The battles between the Ukrainian army and the pro-Russian separatists had largely stopped and heavy weaponry was being withdrawn. The Minsk cease-fire wasn’t holding perfectly, but it was holding.

On that same day, General Philip Breedlove, the top NATO commander in Europe, stepped before the press in Washington. Putin, the 59-year-old said, had once again “upped the ante” in eastern Ukraine — with “well over a thousand combat vehicles, Russian combat forces, some of their most sophisticated air defense, battalions of artillery” having been sent to the Donbass. “What is clear,” Breedlove said, “is that right now, it is not getting better. It is getting worse every day.”

German leaders in Berlin were stunned. They didn’t understand what Breedlove was talking about. And it wasn’t the first time. Once again, the German government, supported by intelligence gathered by the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, did not share the view of NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR).

The German government is alarmed. Are the Americans trying to thwart European efforts at mediation led by Chancellor Angela Merkel? Sources in the Chancellery have referred to Breedlove’s comments as “dangerous propaganda.” Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier even found it necessary recently to bring up Breedlove’s comments with NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg.

The government in Berlin is concerned that Breedlove’s statements could harm the West’s credibility. The West can’t counter Russian propaganda with its own propaganda….
…Berlin sources also say that it has become conspicuous that Breedlove’s controversial statements are often made just as a step forward has been made in the difficult negotiations aimed at a political resolution.

Although President Obama has decided for the time being to give European diplomacy a chance, hawks like Breedlove or Victoria Nuland are doing what they can to pave the way for weapons deliveries. “We can fight against the Europeans, fight against them rhetorically,” Nuland said during a private meeting of American officials…

Nuland, who is seen as a possible secretary of state should the Republicans win back the White House in next year’s presidential election

So, we’re going to start World War III so Victoria Nuland can become the next Republican Secretary of State?

What is the Obama White House doing?

Posted in abuse of power, Russia, Ukraine | 2 Comments »

An addendum on Debaltsevo: it was a rout./Update on Russian involvement/a counterclaim

Posted by Charles II on March 4, 2015

Added 3/7/15, a counterclaim on the deaths in Debaltsevo from Oksana Grytsenko, Kiev Post:]

In Debaltseve alone, up to 7,000 soldiers escaped death in the encirclement.

Only when you read the story, about how traumatized those who escaped were, it doesn’t ring true.
I have been skeptical of rebel claims of a near-annihilation of the troops at Debaltsevo. But the Kiev Post published this account of a sergeant who was just outside of the combat area, in Popasna. Olena Goncharova:

Although Kostyantyn Zubov was not in Debaltseve when his fellow servicemen were leaving the town under enemy fire, he was just 18 kilometers away in Popasna, and saw the soldiers who had just left the trap on Feb. 18. They were headed to Artemivsk, some 46 kilometers away.

“This was not a planned exit. Crushed and shredded into pieces, they had seen how their comrades died,” this is how Zubov describes the soldiers who exited Debaltseve.

He said Ukrainian artillery gave them very little support, the flanks were not covered. “They (commandment) rounded up (thousands of) people in the trap. They were shot point blank. I don’t know if it was because of uselessness of the commandment and what sort of maps they have there, and in whose interest this all was,” Zubov says.

He says that despite President Petro Poroshenko’s claim that he had given the order for the army to exit Debaltseve, the order was actually not given from above. It was a decision taken by commanders in the field on the night of Feb. 17.

Zubov’s recollection is different, though: They lied. It was a defection as the soldiers have left everything – ammunition, their belongings, equipment.”

There is also a major communication problem in the army, he says. “There was a large group of (Russian) troops there in Debaltseve,” Zubov said. “And there was no proper interaction among our units, because of Russian electronic countermeasures. The defense wasn’t planned either.

The army is also very poorly equipped, the sergeant complains. “Supplies are at zero level. The uniforms are useless, poorly made, the die goes bad very quickly, it tears up and it’s cold. It’s has a semblance of a foreign uniform, but the quality is poor,” Zubov says.

This is consistent with the latest report from the pro-rebel site, Colonel Cassad:

The overall number of the junta’s KIA in the fighting for Debalcevo and the adjacent areas were up to 1500, 900-1100 more KIA the junta lost in the fighting near Logvinovo, Nizhnyaya Lozovaya, Sanzharkovka, Dolomitnoye, Mironovka, Krasnyi Pakhar, and Troitskoye. Overall, according to the preliminary data, the junta lost up to 2400-2600 KIA and MIA in the battle for the Debalcevo wedge (perhaps the number of KIA is somewhat lower, because some of them may still roam somewhere in the area of the former Debalcevo cauldron), about 4500 WIA, up to 650 POW.

I guess we can be grateful that 5,000 men were not killed [just wounded or captured. The rebel claim amounts to nearly a 100% casualty/capture rate, which is why I have been skeptical].

I guess we should be worried whether Sergeant Zubov is correct that these were primarily Russian troops that spearheaded the assault. If there are Russian troops in significant numbers, there will be long-term consequences, probably including the re-armament of Europe and the renewal of the Cold War.
Novaya Gazeta has an interview with a Russian soldier who participated in the fight at Debaltsevo. One can translate this. It sounds like he volunteered under pressure. The article doesn’t yet seem to be available in English (see here for Novaya Gazeta in English). I have seen enough of this sort of evidence so that, when added to the extraordinary effectiveness of the rebel troops, it seems likely that there is significant Russian involvement in Ukraine.

The reason that this is an important story is that, just as Russia cannot accept a NATO state on its border, the west probably cannot accept the seizure of a major country by military force. Mariupol is essential to the Ukrainian economy, accounting for an amazing proportion of its industrial output. If Russian troops advance on Mariupol, I could easily see NATO positioning troops–perhaps equipped with tactical nuclear weapons– in Ukraine. I can certainly see Germany and France deciding to re-arm. In other words, the calculus that Russia has used so far for creating a buffer zone in eastern Ukraine starts to turn the other way should the conquest start to look like the full annexation of Ukraine.

This is not a matter of who’s right and who’s wrong. The U.S. is clearly wrong for meddling in the Yanukovych situation. It wasn’t prepared to back the new (coup) government with the $100B or so that is needed to get it out of the woods. It wasn’t prepared to send in troops immediately to signal a determination not to allow Russia to meddle in Ukraine’s affairs. So, the best course would have been to let Ukraine stay under loose Russian control and let the Russians deal with its intractable debt. If they annexed it, they would be seen as the bad guys. Instead, we gave guns to extremists who then went and committed war crimes in the east. Sounds a lot like Iraq our response to the “Sunni rising.”

And Russia was wrong to send in troops. Even “volunteers.” Although several million Ukrainians do support Russian intervention, tens of millions find it frightening. Granted, they’re not frightened enough to clean up the corruption and put together an effective army, but this is normal. Probably a lot of Iraqis wish they had done something more before ISIS became such a problem. I hear reports that genuine terrorists have found the chaos of eastern Ukraine an ideal ground for weapons transfers, human smuggling, and other criminal activity. I don’t know if they are true, but that’s what happened in Syria and Iraq and Afghanistan. What better place for criminal activity than a war zone?

Neither the Americans nor the Russians care enough about the Ukrainian people to make themselves their stewards. The Russians would have been wise to let the west fumble around in Ukraine until the Ukrainian people as a whole made a decision that they were safer allied with the Russians. The Americans would have been wise to let Russia continue to control the Ukrainian government until the mess collapsed of its own weight. But of course America has the same problem as Russia: it is run by unaccountable power, and that power has become corrupt as unaccountable power inevitably does.

All of these consequences–the re-arming of Europe, the introduction of tactical nuclear weapons into the confrontation, and the continued immiseration of all of Ukraine–do not depend on who is right and who is wrong, but emerge simply as the logical consequence of the interests and actions of the participants.

Posted in Russia, Ukraine | 2 Comments »

An estimate of captured materiel at Debaltsevo/updated

Posted by Charles II on February 25, 2015

This from rebel commander Aleksandr Zakharchenko (uploaded Feb. 23), so take it as one side of the story:

170 tanks captured in repairable condition.
50 artillery pieces captured
too many mortars captured to count
enough ammunition to fight a battle equivalent to Debaltsevo captured
the only American foreign weapons he mentions are the counter-mortar radar and radio jamming equipment, an M4 carbine, a machine guns, and shells (here he is very vague)
predicts a breakdown of the ceasefire at the end of March or in April
very roughly 3,000 dead Ukrainian soldiers and 300 still evading capture
Debaltsevo proper had 2,500-3,000 defenders (and others presumably in surrounding villages) vs. 1,000 rebels

There’s no confirmation of the presence of western mercenaries from Greystone-Akademi-Xe-Blackwater-whateverthehell that Der Spiegel reported on (it appeared in Bild am Sonntag; see here to see how unsure the report is).

I don’t know what is meant by repairable, but 170 tanks is a lot of armor. As of 2012, there were only about 700 tanks in the whole Ukrainian military–including the navy.

Some sources are reporting activity near Mariupol, including Russian tanks apparently crossing the border (the latter from a channel 4 reporter, Alex Thomson). And there are reports that rebels have taken some villages, but it sounds as if these are in a no-mans-land buffer zone.

The Kyiv Post is reporting that the UK will send military trainers. Washington Times and HuffPo say so as well. So, there’s the danger of escalation. As congressman Seth Moulton interviewed by Rachel Maddow pointed out, trainers often get caught up in combat and have to fight.

I really hope that Russia recognizes how dangerous the situation is becoming. Brinksmanship was a bad policy when the U.S. used it. It’s a bad policy if Russia uses it, too.

Update: Fortruss published a claim about losses by Kiev from Jan 12-Feb 20. This would include the garrison at Debaltsevo, forces involved in fighting on the access road to Debaltsevo, forces involved in fighting at Donetsk airport, and forces involved in skirmishes in Mariupol. However, by far the largest component would be Debaltsevo and environs. The claim is sourced to the Donetsk People’s Republic Ministry of Defense.

The personnel losses listed are:

6,830 wounded
4,110 killed
1,178 captured

This is about 1/3 of the strength of the regular army.

Claimed materiel destroyed or captured
299 tanks (this is nearly half the total number of tanks Ukraine had in 2012)
290 motor vehicles
24 Grad and 1 Smerch multiple rocket launcher
45 self-propelled howitzers
205 towed artillery
16 anti-aircraft guns

Let’s just say I am skeptical.

Posted in Russia | 2 Comments »

And, oh by the way, please send lots of weapons and money…

Posted by Charles II on February 23, 2015

As I commented below, reading the Kyiv Post is an experience. A recent Op-Ed by one of their former chief editors, Askold Krushelnycky, is truly a marvel:

the mealy-mouthed German Chancellor Angela Merkel and puny French President Francois Hollande

the toothless, yokel, poorly-trained thugs that form the “separatist” pro-Moscow fighters

with sickening hypocrisy Merkel

The despicable duo [Merkel and Hollande]

Conveniently for Merkel, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe can’t provide incontrovertible proof of Russian involvement because the Russians wouldn’t allow them to enter Debaltseve while it was being pummeled…[Also conveniently for Kiev, no independent reporters were present to document any of Kiev’s claims which, Krushelnycky admits, are probably unreliable when it comes to casualties].

Would you buy a used war from this man?

Doesn’t he understand that the entry of NATO into the conflict would require the approval of France and Germany?

Posted in Russia, Ukraine | 4 Comments »

An example of how bad the analysis Ukrainian rebels rely on can be

Posted by Charles II on February 22, 2015

I had to laugh when I read this post at Fortruss:

Dailykos’s Cover-Up of Obama’s Ukrainian Atrocities
Eric Zuesse

Here are typical examples of how this ‘liberal’ (or even some fools call it ‘progressive’) site, dailykos, has ‘reported’ on these events during the past year. (And, please consider that all of these articles were published after the U.S. President whom that site supports had already installed in Ukraine, via a violent coup, an outright exterminationist nazi regime; and, that this is supposed to be a ‘liberal,’ or even ‘progressive,’ ‘news’ site — this site that hides its hero’s nazism, is supposed to be taken as being instead liberal, or even progressive.)

On 13 November 2014, another said (and strongly disagreed with) “Henry Kissinger, that notorious Russian commie sympathizer, says that the West in effect caused the crisis in Ukraine (not, of course, that it’s OK for Russia to have, in response, intervened in Ukraine) because it failed to understand Russian strategic interests.”

If you haven’t guessed, the post that Zuesse links to is mine. In which I say that Kissinger is one of the saner voices of American foreign policy for objecting to US policy in Russia.

Now, I admit that some posters at Daily Kos are extremely hostile to Russia. But a post that highlights Kissinger saying that the West caused the crisis in Ukraine is not one of them. No, I’m not pro-rebel. I am an American– one who sees our national interest as best served by not toppling governments and starting unnecessary wars. And as a corollary, I think that armed conflict is generally a bad idea, especially when it turns your own territory into rubble and your own population into refugees, amputees, and corpses. That goes for Donetsk-Luhansk no less than for Kiev (though, of course, Kiev is operating in rebel territory, and therefore has a lot more control over what gets destroyed).

There are some things that shouldn’t require [snark] tags, like calling Kissinger a “Russian commie sympathizer.” Anyone who can’t figure that much out shouldn’t be calling himself an “investigative historian.” Strangely, everyone publishes Zuesse– Op-Ed News, Truthout, Huff Post, you name it. I hope whether they take the time to fact-check him.

Alas, that’s a problem with the rebel sites: lack of editorial oversight. And, in Zuesse’s case, a failure to provide an e-mail address for corrections.

Not that the pro-Kiev sites are better. Just that in this case, Fortruss printed one thing that is rather obviously false.
Added: Jo6pac points out that the e-mail of the editor of FortRuss, Joaquin Flores is posted on that website. If this were more than a tempest in a teapot, I’d complain to him.

Posted in Russia, Ukraine | 2 Comments »

The debacle in Debaltsevo

Posted by Charles II on February 16, 2015

As for Ukraine reporting, I think I’ll outsource further reporting to Moon of Alabama, who has been doing great work. His post (dated 2/18) on Debaltsevo is here. But there are some important questions to be asked in terms of understanding the reliability of sources and the likely direction of future activities, particularly:

1) When, and how tightly encircled was Debaltsevo?
2) Why did Kiev continue to hold Debaltsevo despite being informed that what had been a salient into rebel territory had become an isolated pocket?
3) What were Kiev’s losses?

The basic timeline is:
Feb. 11: Ceasefire talks convened, with especial concern about the situation at Debaltsevo.
Feb. 12: A ceasefire is announced. It is to begin on Feb. 14/15th at midnight.
Feb. 18: A massive exodus of Kiev troops from the town of Debaltsevo.
Feb. 19: The last fighting in Debaltsevo.

The question of how tightly encircled Debaltsevo was might seem to be an arcane one, but it goes to the heart of who is telling the truth about the Ukraine crisis. A good starting place for understanding this is Der Spiegel, since Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, was the lead in the ceasefire talks. Nikolaus Blome, Matthias Gebauer, Christiane Hoffmann, Dirk Kurbjuweit, Christian Neef, René Pfister, Matthias Schepp, Christoph Schult and Holger Stark:

The problem has four syllables: Debaltseve.

Debaltseve is a small town in eastern Ukraine, held by 6,000 government troops, or perhaps 8,000…. It is the heart of an army that can only put 30,000 soldiers into the field [plus about 35,000 National Guard], a weak heart. Until Sunday of last week, that heart was largely encircled by pro-Russian separatists and the troops could only be supplied by way of highway M03. Then, Monday [Feb. 9th] came.

Separatist fighters began advancing across snowy fields towards the village of Lohvynove, a tiny settlement of 30 houses hugging the M03. The separatists stormed an army checkpoint and killed a few officers. They then dug in — and the heart of the Ukrainian army was surrounded.

The situation in Debaltseve plunged the Ukrainian army into a desperate, almost hopeless, position, as the negotiators in Minsk well knew [the loss of 8,000 men and their materiel would have been catastrophic]. Indeed, it was the reason the talks were so urgently necessary. Debaltseve was one of the reasons Merkel and Hollande launched their most recent diplomatic offensive nine days ago.

The low point of the Minsk negotiations was reached on Thursday [Feb. 12] morning…. The rebels no longer wanted to sign the closing document.

The separatists, not surprisingly, wanted to delay the beginning of the cease-fire for as long as possible so as to give themselves time to completely conquer Debaltseve. Poroshenko, too, seemed to prefer a delayed cease-fire — apparently not fully understanding the situation facing his military. The Europeans were trying to protect the Ukrainians from themselves.

Russia has likely already achieved its minimum goal, that of preventing Ukraine from joining NATO or the European Union. The deal agreed to in Minsk includes a kind of veto right for separatist areas in eastern Ukraine on important fundamental issues. That right would apply to membership in military alliances and to membership in economic blocks such as the EU or Putin’s Eurasian Economic Union [so, as long as the ceasefire holds, Russia has won its primary objective. The side with the motive to break the ceasefire at present is Washington].

The key point to notice is that re-supply to Debaltsevo was cut two days before the talks began.

And it’s not only Der Spiegel that confirmed the date of the seizure of Lohvynove (or Logvinovo as I have seen it written). This is what the Torygraph said on 14 February, before the ceasefire:

On Friday [Feb 13], a prominent Ukrainian commander, Semen Semenchenko, criticised official military spokesmen for pretending that the road was still open, saying his men had been forced to withdraw from a key hamlet. And the wounded in Artemivsk hospital had come from positions outside the pocket. “No one gets out of Debaltseve,” said one soldier who declined to give his name. “It has been closed for five or six days.”

Even the Kyiv Post admitted that Logvovino had been taken on Feb. 9.

But was the encirclement as tight as was claimed? Here is a pro-rebel claim dated February 10. It shows Debaltsevo encircled in an area approximately 2 x 2 mi. It claims Chernukhino (about 2 miles east of the crossing of M03 and M04) on the verge of collapse, Svetlodarsk (roughly eight miles to the northwest) heavily engaged and pockets formed around Ol’khovatke and Bulavyn’ske [however, as February 11th, this source indicates that Debaltsevo and Ol’kovatke are still connected]. By Feb. 11, Chernukhino (on the east edge of Debaltsevo is described as close quarters fighting.

But on February 18th, a week after this, with rebel claims of holding territory all around Debaltsevo and within about a mile of the city center, a substantial force managed to break out and rescue a number of vehicles. How many escaped? This rebel source claims 1200-1500 KIA and 500 wounded. Pravda quotes an unnamed rebel source as claiming 3,048 Kiev dead in the battle. This source suggests that 1 battalion’s worth of mechanized equipment made it out, with 5-7 battalions destroyed or captured. It lists 6 tanks, 26 BMP (infantry fighting vehicle) and MT-LB (armored tracked vehicle), 2 BTR-80 armored personnel carrier), 3 self-propelled howitzers, 4 command vehicles, one BM-21 Grad launcher, 2 UR-77 combat engineer vehicles, 5 BRDM-2 (recon vehicle), and a large number of trucks and wheeled vehicles as emerging from Debaltsevo on Feb. 18. You can see more here, via Vineyard of the Saker] But Kiev claims to have recovered 200 vehicles.

But (accepting the rebel estimate of the initial garrison) where are the missing 85% of the vehicles? While the rebels are proudly showing off their captured gear, there don’t seem to be many intact vehicles or heavy weapons. Lots of artillery shells and small supplies, a counter mortar radar, a Humvee… but not what one would expect from absolutely headlong flight. CNN shows photos of the situation in town immediately after capture, including one captured vehicle. The BBC quotes eyewitnesses as seeing dozens of tanks escaping. I’m guessing that more got out than what we saw arriving up the M03 highway. Thirty percent? Fifty percent?

In the pro-Kiev narrative, Debaltsevo was never cut off. Reuters, 2/16:

Military spokesman Vladislav Seleznyov said the town lies within territory under Ukrainian control in accordance with a ceasefire deal reached in Minsk last week.

KyivPost, 2/15:

The Ukrainian troops continue to deny that the road to the city is closed off, saying it was still possible to reach it, even though the road leading to it is under fire, and mined in many places.

As late as 2/18, Poroshenko was claiming that the retreat was an orderly one with almost no losses. France 24:

“Debaltseve was under our control, it was never encircled. Our troops and formations have left in an organised and planned manner,” he said in televised comments.

Poroshenko spoke at a Kiev airport as he traveled to eastern Ukraine to “shake hands” with the soldiers who were pulled out of Debaltseve.

He sought to portray the withdrawal as a tactical decision that “laid shame on Russia, which called on the Ukrainian troops yesterday to lay down arms, raise the white flag and surrender”.

Ukrainian troops “gave a blow in the teeth to those who were trying to encircle them”, he said.

The Kiev narrative-which was supported for many days by the western media– is simply delusional (it should be noted that some Kiev commanders were realistic from the beginning, but their views were not given an audience). The regular re-supply at Debaltsevo was interrupted no later than Feb. 9th. That meant it was no longer a salient, but an isolated pocket that could not have survived during a ceasefire. Now, had the Kiev military re-captured Logvovino before the ceasefire was signed, that would have been moot. But Poroshenko signed the agreement knowing–but denying that– Debaltsevo was isolated. Kiev and the western media seem to have tried to turn the battle for Debaltsevo into a reason for breaking the ceasefire.

For their part, the rebels I believe, overstated how tightly encircled the Debaltsevo garrison was. A good guess–and guess is all that it is– is that the garrison suffered about 30% killed, wounded, or captured–a terrible toll. But 70% probably survived unharmed, some by desertion and some in the bugout of Feb. 18th. Still, with control of the main road for eight full days, it should have been possible to seal the exits of Debaltsevo. I have seen a comment to the effect that the rebel forces magnanimously allowed the Kiev forces to escape: this is how bizarre the comments get. The troops who were interviewed said that they took heavy fire. The rebels tried to stop them from escaping. But they did not have the control of the area they claimed, and they’ll face what equipment did escape at some other time.

On the other side, Kiev is trying to claim that the rebels violated the ceasefire by taking Debaltsevo. This claim is about as laughable as the claim that the rebels stepped aside for the garrison to leave, no matter how much western media claims otherwise. Debaltsevo, as a salient, was incapable of withdrawing its heavy equipment from the line to the distance required by the ceasefire. Once they became an isolated pocket, they became incapable of withdrawing heavy equipment without entering disputed areas. Therefore, the only honorable solution would have been to surrender Debaltsevo. It had been occupied mostly to make miserable the lives of civilians by preventing coal from getting to rebel cities– that was apparently why it was such a must-have location as to risk the lives of a quarter of the regular army.

Are Russian troops engaged in combat in Eastern Ukraine? Are NATO troops (or contractors) engaged in combat? This is one area where I simply am not sure. There certainly seem to be Russian soldiers in Eastern Ukraine (I’m ignoring the “little green men” of Crimea, since those were clearly Russian military personnel already present in Crimea due to the Russian base). The rebel side includes former Ukrainian soldiers, so it’s not like they’re purely amateurs. Luhansk and Donetsk are so close to the Russian border that it’s entirely possible for Russian troops to engage Kiev’s troops withut even crossing the border–though it’s also widely reported that they have crossed the border. Reports of Russian materiel are often mistaken or ambiguous, but some–like those presented by Jane’s– seem credible. It’s hard to believe the rebels have equipped themselves so well simply by the spoils of war. While I believe that Russia has intervened in Ukraine–and condemn any such intervention– it seems to be on the same order of intervention that the US has had in places like El Salvador and Haiti. It’s small enough that we deny involvement, just as Russia denies its involvement in the Donbas.

There are no reports of NATO troops or contractors captured at Debaltsevo. There are some reports of western materiel–like the counter-mortar radars captured at Debaltsevo– but nothing like what one would expect in a true proxy war.

Now, the situation may change. But at present, we seem to be just shy of a proxy war.

Just as Debaltsevo seems to have been a debacle for Kiev, but not a disaster.

Posted in Russia | 3 Comments »

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