Monday, May 5, 2014

Ukraine SITREP - May 5th, 17:37 UTC/Zulu: this time the junta means business

From the reports coming out of the eastern Ukraine it appears that a real, coordinated, attack has been launched on Slaviansk.  The attackers use the following tactic: a group of men in plainclothes (Right Sector?  Foreign mercenaries?  SBU?) attack a checkpoint pinning down the defenders.  The checkpoint is then surrounded on both sides by armored personnel carriers and heavily armed infantry.  Mi-24 helicopters approach from the air and a heavy joint attack of all forces is launched.  Assault-rifles, 23/30mm guns, unguided/guided rockets, anti-tank weapons, mortars, snipers and grenade-launchers are engaged.  At this point the defenders have no other option but to try to withdraw under fire and the checkpoint is taken.

This time around the junta means business.

That is not to say that the defenders do not resist.  At least one Mi-24 has been reported shot down by machine-gun fire over a river and the junta has confirmed 4 fatalities on its side (compared to 10 fatalities amongst the defenders).

I personally very much doubt that the defenders of Slaviansk had the time, manpower, expertise or equipment to adequately prepare the center of the town for a determined assault.  The Chechens in Grozny had plenty of experienced combat engineer/sapper specialists, many months of preparation time and access to basically all the military equipment of a full Soviet army (left for them courtesy of the Eltsin-Grachev team) and that allowed them to turn downtown Grozny into a fortress.  In contrast, there are very few well-trained specialists in Slaviansk, they have had almost no time to prepare, and most of their fortifications appear to be hastily improvised.

So far the number of civilians casualties appears to be limited, mainly because the checkpoints were established at the entrance of the city.  But if the combats move in, the defenders will have to use the advantage offered by taller buildings for their defense at which point the attackers will have no other choice than to open fire upon large, residential buildings, possibly filled with civilians unable/unwilling to evacuate.  Basements are also going to become a place to seek shelter for both armed defenders and civilians.  In other words, the amount of civilians killed will very sharply rise of the attackers attempt to take control of downtown Slaviansk.

An increasing number of commentators are pointing to the upcoming May 9th as a crucial symbolic date at which something big could happen.  I don't particularly like the notion of mixing symbols and the planning of military operations, but I have to say that in this case the commentators might be correct, if only because the offensive in the eastern Ukraine will reach some kind of breaking point in the next week or so.

Keep in mind that for all the courage of its defenders, Slaviansk is a rather small town, especially compared to cities like Donetsk or Lugansk which are a much tougher nut to crack not only because of their seize, but also because of the likely number of trained and well-equipped combatants.  I cannot imagine that the Ukie commanders seriously think that they could repeat in Donetsk and/or Lugansk the same thing which took them so much time and efforts in Slaviansk.  I can therefore only conclude that their real goal is to bait Russia into an intervention (for a discussion of the logic for such a move see here).

In the meantime, the propaganda war is heating up.  In a rather clumsy attempt to explain the large amount of pro-Russian comments on various websites Business Insider has accused Putin of creating a Russian version of the notorious Israeli hasbara teams alleging that Putin is paying people to post pro-Russian propaganda in comments (can somebody please point out to the folks in the Kremlin the small "donation" button on the left of this page?  So far,  not a single Ruble or Hrivna has ever been donated to this blog.  Not one). As for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it has published a White Paper on Human Rights violations in the Ukraine which you can download from here (in Russian) and from here (in English).  However, since the Ministry of Foreign Affairs servers are notoriously slow, I have also made this document available for download here (in Russian) and here (in English).

Lastly, the situation in Odessa is simply surrealistic.  Following yesterday's massacre not a single neo-Nazis has been arrested, not one, but many tens of pro-federation demonstrators have.  Some of them have been freed when the prosecutors office was surrounded by an angry mob demanding their release.  Now the big "scandal" is not, as you naively might have imagined, that it took a mob to release the victims of the neo-Nazi massacre, no, the "scandal" is that these victims were released at all.  See, the authorities have charged them with "mass disturbances resulting in fatalities" and "murder" and they are now forming special "arrest teams" to hunt down and re-arrest all those whom the crowd had freed.  Predictably, the official narrative about the events wobbles between the "Russian agents" and "terrorist separatists" explanation.  More interesting is the fact that Avakov (the junta warlord in charge of internal security) has fired all the commanders of the Odessa police which, no doubt, will further endear the junta with what is left of the Ukrainian police forces).  Needless to say, the neo-Nazi Right Sector organization has not been punished, nevermind banned, and tonight their are holding yet another Nazi-style torchlight parade.

Stay tuned, kind regards,

The Saker