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Ukraine at War: Fighting Escalates in Donbass
OSCE Special Monitoring Mission vehicles and Ukrainian tanks stand in the yard of an apartment house in Avdiivka, eastern Ukraine, Wednesday, 01FEB17 (AP/Evgeniy Maloletka)
Heavy fighting along the front lines of Ukraine’s embattled Donbass region began over the weekend of 27JAN and persisted through the weekend of 03FEB. Both government and separatist forces have accused the other for the initial escalation and pursuant attacks. The latest clashes mark the first significant escalation in Ukraine since the inauguration of US President Trump, whose call for better relations with Moscow has alarmed Kiev as well as EU and NATO allies. In FEB15, France and Germany helped broker the Minsk Accords with Russia and Ukraine. European Union leaders have tied implementation of the accords to a series of sanctions against Russia, including damaging economic restrictions. The latest surge of fighting is a serious cause for concern as to what may be in store for the war’s third year.
News summary of events during the week of 30JAN17 – 06FEB17
- 30JAN: At least seven Ukrainian troops were killed in fighting between government troops and separatist rebels. (AP)
- 31JAN: Heavy artillery and rockets hit residential areas in eastern Ukraine, leaving at least eight people dead, residents in Donetsk without electricity, and residents of Avdiivka without water, power, or heating amidst freezing temperatures. (AP)
- 31JAN: The Ukrainian military and Russian-backed separatists accused each other of launching offensives in the government-held industrial town of Avdiivka. (Reuters)
- 31JAN: The European Union called the surge in fighting an outright breach of the Minsk truce accords. (AFP).
- 31JAN: State Department spokesman Mark Toner expressed the United States’ deep concern about the renewed fighting and demanded a ceasefire. (AFP)
- 31JAN: The UN Security Council also expressed “grave concern” over the “dangerous deterioration” in eastern Ukraine and called for a halt to the violence. (Reuters)
- 01FEB: Russia and Ukraine traded accusations over an incident involving a Ukrainian military aircraft flying over a Russian-operated gas rig in the Black Sea. (AP)
- 02FEB: The warring parties exchanged mortar and rocket fire for a fourth day, with the rising death toll at 19. (AFP)
- 02FEB: The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that over 17,000 people, including 2,500 children, were suffering freezing weather without any heating or electricity around the town of Avdiivka. (XIN)
- 03FEB: The week’s death toll rose to at least 33 people including civilians, with several dozen injured as fighting continued. (AP)
- 03FEB: The Russian Foreign Ministry accused Ukrainian armed forces of violating the Geneva Convention by shelling civilian areas in eastern Ukraine and of using weapons systems banned under the terms of the Minsk peace deal. (Reuters)
- 03FEB: The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine Security reported that the situation in Donbass significantly deteriorated and the ceasefire was violated by both sides more than 11,000 times on 31JAN. (TASS)
- 03FEB: The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warned that 700,000 more people would be in need of assistance this year compared with 2016, as a result of protracted fighting in east Ukraine, raising the total number of people in need of aid to 3.8 million. (XIN)
- 04FEB: A lull in shelling was broken hours before a planned telephone call between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and US President Donald Trump. (Reuters)
- 04FEB: Oleg Anashchenko, the de facto defense minister of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic, was killed in a car bomb attack in Luhansk. (BBC)
- 04FEB: A Ukrainian Defense Ministry delegation took part in a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Joint Working Group on Defense Reform (JWGDF) and briefed the alliance bloc on the escalation in Donbass. (Interfax-Ukraine)
- 05FEB: Fighting subsided around Avdiivka after President Trump held a telephone conversation with President Poroshenko. (AFP)
- 05FEB: Militia spokesman of the self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR) Andrei Marchenko said Ukraine’s military relocated to the line of engagement with self-propelled artillery units, tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and armored personnel carriers. (TASS)
- 05FEB: The Trump administration added to confusion about its policy on Russia and Ukraine with a statement after a phone call with Ukraine’s president that noted Russia’s involvement in the conflict there but appeared to misstate where the fighting is taking place. (WSJ)
Sample of Twitter handles tweeting about the renewed fighting in Ukraine
- @ChristopherJM – Christopher Miller, Kyiv-based correspondent for RFE/RL, Mashable, and the Telegraph.
- @TomBurridgebbc – Tom Burridge, BBC correspondent based in Kiev.
- @PLnewstoday – Patrick Lancaster, Crowdfunded Video journalist covering the Ukraine war on the DPR side of the frontline.
- @MuradGazdiev – Murad Gazdiev, RT English Correspondent.
- @steven_pifer – Steven Pifer, Brookings scholar focusing on arms control, Russia and Ukraine.
Sample of Third Party Validators regarding the renewed fighting in Ukraine
Vladimir Socor, Senior Fellow of the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation
“Negotiations in the ‘Normandy’ format (Russia, Germany, France, Ukraine) have not been held since the October 2016 Berlin summit. That meeting supposedly authorized the drafting of a “road map” for political settlement in the Minsk Contact Group. But that process is also destined to fail as long as it seeks to empower the Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics” against Kyiv. This is how the Minsk process has been structured from the outset, under the Normandy format’s supervision. Both Minsk and Normandy, however, failed to overcome Kyiv’s skillful defense of its interests. No further meetings are currently planned in the Normandy format at any level. The Normandy format can now be regarded as frozen (unlike the simmering conflict on the ground).
- “Merkel-Poroshenko Meeting Shows Deep Freeze of ‘Normandy’ Negotiations”, The Jamestown Foundation, 02FEB17
Staff analysis, Stratfor –Strategic Forecasting, Inc.
“Though Ukrainian officials accused Russia of orchestrating the flare-up to strengthen its negotiating position with the West, Kiev could have incited the violence to draw attention to the conflict and rally international support for continued sanctions on Moscow. Ukraine is in a precarious position. As Washington pursues warmer ties with Moscow, Kiev will look to its European allies for greater support. It will also try to swing perceptions of the conflict in eastern Ukraine against Russia, using flare-ups in the violence to persuade the United States to stand firm on sanctions. These efforts may not keep the Trump administration from reaching an understanding with the Kremlin, but they promise to make the situation in Donbas more volatile.”
- “In Ukraine, Fears of a U.S. Pivot to Russia”, Stratfor, 01FEB17
Adrian Karatnycky, Senior Fellow at the Washington-based Atlantic Council
“[Regarding the White House readout of President Trump’s telephone conversation with Ukrainian President Poroshenko and Mr. Trump’s statements in an interview with Fox News,] There is confusion and mixed signals, which is the last thing the world needs at a time of conflict and aggression.”
- “Trump Administration Issues Perplexing Statement on Whereabouts of Ukraine Conflict”, WSJ, 05FEB17
Andrius Tursa, advisor on central and eastern European issues at Teneo Intelligence
“A recent outburst in fighting in the Donbass, observed since January 28, follows a cyclical pattern of intensification and de-escalation, characteristic to this conflict,” “A frozen-conflict in the Donbass serves Russia’s goals of preventing Ukraine from joining the EU and NATO. A more sustainable settlement would likely entail a wider agreement between Russia and Western powers, including the U.S.” He added that Russia has offered help to the U.S. in fighting terrorism, “potentially seeking concessions on sanctions or its actions in central and eastern Europe.”
- Trump-Putin ties now seen as key to peace in eastern Ukraine, CNBC, 06FEB17
Joseph Dayan, head of markets at BCS Global Markets in London
“Haley’s comments did not pertain to the major sanctions everyone wants removed,” “She was very clear about that.” “Regardless of your personal views of the president, Trump is a god send for Russia investors,” “His winning was definitely not priced in and the implications of a Trump White House on Russia are pretty straight forward. The Trump story is good for sectoral sanctions. Broadly speaking, the market is not getting this one wrong.”
- “What U.N. Ambassador Haley’s Comment On Russia Really Means”, Forbes, 03FEB17
Sample of open source research conducted by TRG analysts related to the renewed fighting in Ukraine
- Six killed in surge of Ukraine fighting
Media: Agence France-Presse (AFP)
Date: 30 January 2017
Avdiivka, Ukraine, Jan 30, 2017 (AFP) – A surge in clashes between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed rebels despite a supposed truce left at six people dead on Monday in Ukraine’s war-scarred east.
The overall death toll for the past two days rose to 11 after the bloodiest outburst of violence since Ukraine and its foes agreed an “indefinite” ceasefire in December.
“Since Sunday, there have been continuing clashes and heavy attacks on our positions,” Ukraine’s 72nd army brigade officer told AFP.
- Ukraine, Russia trade accusations over Black Sea plane
Media: Associated Press
Date: 01 February 2017
MOSCOW (AP) — The Russian navy is denying Ukraine’s claim that one of its aircraft came under fire from a Russian gas rig in the Black Sea.
Ukrainian presidential spokesman Svyatoslav Tsegolko said the aircraft was fired upon Wednesday while flying near two Russian offshore gas rigs. He posted a picture on Facebook showing a hole in the plane but added that the crew was not hurt.
- OSCE records unprecedented number of ceasefire violations in eastern Ukraine
Media: Tass (Russia)
Date: 03 February 2017
KIEV, February 3. /TASS/. Security situation in Donbass has significantly deteriorated over the past days and the ceasefire was violated by both sides more than 11,000 times on Tuesday, Deputy Chief Monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine Alexander Hug said.
“On 31 Jan SMM recorded over 11,000 ceasefire violations – Truly unprecedented,” Hug said in a statement posted on the mission’s Twitter page. He expressed particular concerns over the use of multiple launch rocket systems in Avdeyevka, Yasinovataya and the area of the Donetsk airport.
- OPINION: The United States abandons Ukraine
Media: Washington Post
Byline: Maxim Eristavi
Date: 03 February 2017
NOTE: Maxim Eristavi is a nonresident research fellow with the Atlantic Council and co-founder of Hromadske International, an independent news outlet, based in Kiev.
The citizens of Ukraine have never had any illusions about the international community’s willingness to take their side in their bloody conflict with Russia. Ukrainians collectively roll their eyes whenever one of their well-meaning friends abroad expresses “grave concern” about Moscow’s aggression, because those fine-sounding words are so rarely followed by concrete actions.
But at least they knew they could count on the Americans. Ukraine and the United States have enjoyed friendly relations for a good 25 years now. And over for the past two years — ever since Moscow seized and occupied the Ukrainian territory of Crimea, and then launched its invasion of the country’s eastern territories shortly thereafter — Ukrainians always saw Washington as their most important diplomatic ally. That was especially true when it came to maintaining and imposing sanctions aimed at holding the Russian military in check.
Now that long-standing alliance appears to be over.
- Kiev and Kremlin trade blame over surge in east Ukraine fighting
Date: 04 February 2017
KIEV/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Ukraine and Russia blamed each other on Tuesday for a surge in fighting in eastern Ukraine in recent days that has led to the highest casualty toll in weeks and cut off power and water to thousands of civilians on the front line.
The Ukrainian military and Russian-backed separatists accuse each other of launching offensives in the government-held industrial town of Avdiyivka and firing heavy artillery in defiance of the two-year-old Minsk ceasefire deal.