By Irina Burya, Donetsk International News Agency, special to Russia Insider, July 1, 2016
This week, the negotiations of the Minsk-2 ceasefire Contact Group have resumed in Minsk and naturally the situation at the front has sharply deteriorated. According to the Donetsk People’s Republic Defense Ministry, the intensity of fire visited on DPR territory by Kiev has increased significantly, reaching 700-800 bombardments on some days. In addition to traditional mortars, infantry fighting vehicles, grenade launchers and small arms, the Ukrainian side also openly used artillery of large calibers, which accounted for about a hundred attacks per day.
The largest bombardments were directed at Donetsk in the central part of the front, Gorlovka in the north of the DPR, and Dokuchaevsk and Kominternovo in the southern, Mariupol direction.
DPR authorities reported that as a result of the attacks, five civilians were wounded over three days, two of them women, and 43 houses were damaged, one of which was completely destroyed. In addition, because of the shelling by the Ukrainian military of the water treatment plant in Gorlovka, the city’s water supply was disrupted.
In Dokuchaevsk, the Ukrainian side also shelled a refinery. The next day when a group of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and Joint Center for Control and Coordination (comprising Ukrainian and Russian military officers) observers came to document the results of the bombardment, the Ukrainian military bombarded the plant again with mortars, interrupting the inspections of the international observers.
According to eyewitnesses, four mortar rounds were launched at the plant from Ukrainian positions. Unexploded projectiles still remain on the territory of the plant. However, according to DPR authorities, it is not possible, for security reasons, to dispatch sappers there.
On the same day, the DPR sappers were directly attacked by the Ukrainian side when they were demining the Shirokino area. This area, according to the Minsk Agreements, is a demilitarised zone. However, in the spring, some of its segments were occupied by units of the Ukrainian army and the nationalist battalions. The demining works were agreed to by the DPR authorities and the OSCE mission, whose representatives had often refused to inspect this area due to the presence of mines.
According to the DPR Defense Ministry, the Ukrainian side opened artillery fire at the group of sappers, after which the sappers were attacked by a Ukrainian reconnaissance group. As a result, two sappers were killed and another eight taken prisoner.
On the same day, in a situation report provided by the Ukrainian operational headquarters (ATO), the captured sappers were declared to be Russian mercenaries. A day later, however, in official Kiev reports, the story changed to the group being simply deceived locals who had entered DPR service out of a lack of employment opportunities, but who were still armed with Russian weapons.
After the capture of these DPR residents performing the work coordinated with the international missions in the demilitarised zone, the DPR authorities announced a revision of their concept of response to provocations from the Ukrainian side. Having analysed the actions of Kiev in the Mariupol direction, the military authorities of the Republic have come to the conclusion that the nature of the provocations in the south of the DPR indicates the work of the Special Operations Forces of Ukraine, which were previously discovered by DPR intelligence in the Donetsk area. Such groups usually include foreign mercenaries, who are experts in sabotage and provocations.
The fact of Western instructors training the Ukrainian military may also help explain what at first sight appears a strange attempt to break through DPR defences that occurred two days ago in the Debaltsevo direction, one of the quietest areas recently.
According to the DPR military, at night the positions of the Republican Army were shelled from the Ukrainian side with mortars, with no return fire from DPR forces. Half an hour later, the mortar attack was repeated and followed by fire from a tank, which also went unanswered by the DPR. It is most likely that the Ukrainian military decided that the main forces of the DPR army were preoccupied elsewhere in hotter spots and so took the opportunity to attempt to break through, accompanied by two infantry fighting vehicles and an armoured personnel carrier. As a result, they managed to push DPR positions 4 kms deeper into its own territory.
The DPR army command sent to the breakthrough point reinforcements that recaptured ground and regained their positions. During the battle, both sides used all kinds of weapons and equipment available in this sector of the front, including artillery and tanks.
The next day, the ATO press service categorically denied any attack by their side. However, a day later, the ATO spokesman admitted heavy fighting in this sector, and even acknowledged the losses in the Ukrainian army, namely, one dead and 11 wounded.
At the same time, the DPR soldiers who participated in the battle spoke of dozens of Ukrainian soldiers left on the battlefield as well as of several destroyed pieces of equipment. This information is indirectly supported by Ukrainian volunteers calling on social networks for urgent medical assistance. The DPR military officially lost two men wounded.
This attack by Kiev appears strange from the point of view of both the configuration of this segment of the front and the number of forces sent by the Ukrainian command for the breakthrough. Even the successful Ukrainian thrust into DPR territory was most likely to have ended for them in another mini-pocket. The small mechanised group had no chance whatsoever of holding the seized territory.
On the other hand, military experts suggest that the sudden dash of the Ukrainian military into Debaltsevo made it possible to solve several urgent tasks relevant to intelligence, including finding out the composition, disposition, strength and likely course of action of DPR troops at the forefront, as well as aerial photography and air control of the positions of the DPR Armed Forces.
It is also possible that the General Staff of Ukraine expected that, having repelled the attack, the DPR army would not stop and would go on a counter-attack, which would have allowed Kiev to declare the failure of the Minsk Agreements on account of the Republic.
On the eve of the breakthrough attempt, Ukraine’s President Poroshenko announced that Kiev refuses to fulfil the Minsk Agreements until fire completely ceased in Donbass. At the same time, the speaker of the Verkhovnaya Rada stated that the return to a discussion of these agreements was possible following at least 30 days of complete silence on the front.
Meanwhile, Kiev continues to deliver to the contact line heavy equipment and weapons. In recent days, in addition to already familiar reports about infantry fighting vehicles, tanks, howitzers and self-propelled artillery systems, DPR intelligence reported on the arrival to the front line of Ukrainian anti-tank cannons and 220 mm Grad and Uragan MLRS’s.
DONi News (Donetsk International News Agency) provides English translations of the daily reports of the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics’ militaries on the ongoing violations by Ukraine of the military ceasefire agreed in Minsk, Belarus in February 2015. Read the reports here.
Less complete but nonetheless informative reports are published daily by the Special Monitoring Mission of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), here.
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