Friday, May 2, 2014

Ukraine SITREP May 2nd, 17:37 UTC/Zulu: "The Mouse that Roared"

Today's events in the Ukraine have seen both a dramatic escalation and yet another complete flop.  Let's restate here the fact which are not in dispute by any part
  • The Ukrainian junta has launched what it calls a major counter-terrorist operation against the city of Slaviansk.
  • Combat helicopters were used.
  • Armored personnel carriers were used.
  • A number of checkpoints have been taken over by the attacking force.
  • Two (possibly three) combat helicopters were shot down.
  • The attacking side reports two fatalities on their side and one amongst the pro-Russian insurgency.  The pro-Russian insurgents confirmed these figures.
That's about it.  In military terms this translates into "total flop".  Let me re-state some basic things again in the form of a Q&A:

Q: What are the "checkpoints" which were seized today?

A: These are makeshift checkpoint made of tires, wood, metal bars, stones, some concrete blocks, etc.  They are defended by a ragtag mix of younger men with assault or hunting rifles, some civilians armed with bars, sticks, rods, and a motley assortment of men and women of different ages just standing around to "help if needed".  Normally, a single APC could easily just drive through such a "checkpoint".  I suppose that hidden form view there might be some snipers and possibly some guys with anti-tanks weapons, but today they were neither seen nor heard.  

Q: So where are the most combat capable defense forces?

A: Further inside the city

Q: Who were the attacking forces?

A: Though there have been plenty of rumors about the Right Sector or the newly created National Guard, all the footage seems to show only regular army units which told that they were sent to defend the population against terrorists.

Q: Did any of the attacking forces penetrate inside Slaviansk?

A: Maybe.  There was some sporadic gunfire in various parts of downtown Slaviansk, and there are rumors of diversionary units infiltrated inside the city.  If they are there, they have so far achieved exactly nothing

Q: So what has this first day of the "major" anti-terrorist operation achieved exactly?

A: Nothing.

Q: What about the helicopters shot down?

A:  Some rumors claim that they were shot down by portable air-defense missiles, other speak of anti-tank weapons.  Either way, the net effect of these losses will be to make the Ukie pilots even more nervous and reluctant to fly combat missions.

Q: What were these helicopters doing anyway?

A: One was an armed transport Mi-8 while the other was an attack Mi-24.  There is footage showing a Mi-24 using firing his rockets at an unknown target.

Q: What role is the Ukie military playing in this conflict?

A: A very minor one.  As I wrote yesterday, the military is either unwilling (probably both) or unable to conduct a serious military operation.  Whether any other force (Right Sector, National Guard, SBU, US mercenaries, etc.) can do much better is dubious at best, but we should assume that they can just as a working hypothesis, even if so far nothing corroborates it.

Q: What about Russia, should it intervene?

A: Absolutely not.  For one thing, so far, the grand offensive just seized a few poorly defended checkpoints.  IF tomorrow there is an attack beyond these checkpoints inside the city of Slaviansk itself and IF that attack is successful, then maybe it will be correct time to consider a military action.  So far, all the signs are that the locals can beat back the attacker without direct Russian intervention and that would be much better for all parties involved.

Q: What about the massacre of civilians?

What massacre?  Only one person died today, and that was outside the city near a checkpoint.  There were no massacres so far.  Nor was any artillery fire reported.  Not a single confirmed tank shot either.  It makes no sense whatsoever for the Russians to intervene under these conditions.

Q: Is Russia not sending a message of weakness?

Only to ignorant reporters.  Military folks on all sides know that Russian can liberate the entire Donbass literally overnight very few, if any, losses.  From a purely military point of view, the liberation of Crimea was a far more complex operation than a liberation of the Donbass would.  The Kremlin does not need to make threats to be credible.  It just needs to act if and when it decides to, and not in haste or to "look tough" (let the US/NATO engage in that kind of childish PR).

Q: So nothing of importance happened in the Ukraine?

Oh no, something very important did happen, but not in Slaviansk, but in Odessa.  There have been some rather violent clashes between pro-Russian and pro-junta demonstrators in Odessa which could lead to the end of the relative peace so far in that city.  If the lid blows off and the confrontation becomes overt then this could create an extremely volatile situation in Odessa which is truly vital to the junta in power.  The city is a complex mix of ethnicities, closer in ethnic diversity to Crimea than to Donetsk. 

I hope that this Q&A format is helpful to clarify this situation.  Either way, please let me know.

I will be monitoring the situation as best I can and I will inform you of any important developments.  I urge you all not to come to any conclusions based on rumors as today, again, we have seen a vast over-reaction of the media (on all sides) to what has been mostly a non-event: the junta's mouse roared - that's about it.

Kind regards to all,

The Saker