The military situation along the frontlines of the unrecognized people’s republics of Donetsk and Lugansk continues to be tense. The conflicting parties are engaged in a positional warfare and keep undertaking developing attacks in an attempt to get some part of the neutral zone, like the Ukrainian troops are doing on a regular basis near Donetsk or like the Novorossian armed forces did near Maryevka a few days ago. For the moment, the parties are abstaining from large-scale attacks and prefer local tactical victories, which make no serious change to the general situation. Resumed in early August, the massive shelling of frontline towns has now subsided, with the parties shooting mainly at each other’s positions mostly at night.
The political situation
In terms of politics, the parties are facing a deadlock as their Minsk talks in early August were followed by even more active battles. The next round of the talks on Aug 26 will hardly register any progress on the Minsk agreements, especially now that Poroshenko has said that Ukraine needed the Minsk process just as a pause for recovering after Debaltsevo and preparing for the next stage of the war. In this light, any further talks in Minsk look as just a diplomatic cover.
The situation on the frontline
There have been no serious changes on the frontline over the last week. The success of the Novorossian army near Maryevka (where they occupied a part of the neutral zone) was equivalent to the success of the Ukrainian troops near Zhabunki. The Ukrainians were much less successful in their attacks on Novaya Laspa and Starognatovka. They were actively shelling the frontline between Shirokino and Granitnoye, but were less active near Dokuchayevsk and Yelenovka. In that area, the Ukrainians have quite a strong force, so, it is there that they may try to undertake a large-scale attack.
Near Donetsk and Horlivka, the situation is the same: the Ukrainians keep shelling the area, with the Novorossians undertaking counter-battery attacks with limited success. The Ukrainian troops continue using multiple artillery rockets, but are sparing their Uragan and Smertch systems. Now that the Ukrainian attacks have become less active, the Novorossians are beginning to reinforce their positions. But over the last few days they have seen the Ukrainians clearing their mine fields, patrolling Mariupol from the air and deploying more tanks, armored vehicles, self-propelled guns and rocket systems along the frontline.
All this stuff is aimed at Donetsk, so, obviously, that republic will be the key target of the next Ukrainian attack.
In the territory of the Lugansk People’s Republic, the Ukrainians have much less resources. But even there they have a group that may attack Slavyanoserbsk and Lugansk (though they will hardly be able to capture the city). In the territory of Lugansk, the Ukrainians are much less active, but this passivity may prove to be deceptive as the Ukrainians may attack Donetsk and Lugansk at one and the same time, and the Novorossians will have to redeploy their forces to protect both frontlines. In the meantime, military sources are warning that the next Ukrainian attack should be expected in the coming few days.
Several dozens of houses and facilities have been destroyed in the territories of Donetsk and Lugansk over the last week. The conflicting parties are keeping secret their losses, but some sources say that the Ukrainian junta has lost no less than 100-120 men. Obviously, the Novorossians are also sustaining losses. Today both parties are actively censoring their data, but the Debaltsevo battle has shown that sometimes they are unable to prevent information leaks.
Now that the Ukrainian troops are said to be preparing for a large-scale offensive, the Novorossians will certainly try to reinforce their positions.
Their internal frontlines will help them to quickly and safely redeploy their resources from one place to another, but their primary plan is obviously to kill the Ukrainian attack in the bud and to launch a counteroffensive. Today, the Novorossians are applying a counteroffensive strategy. This is why they are keeping most of their resources behind the second frontline. And this is also why the enemy is often unaware of where their striking forces are.
Just a few days ago, Ukrainian intelligence found out that the Stakhanovsk group of the Novorossian army is planning an attack in the direction of Svitlodarsk and Artyomovsk. This may be a reality, but more often, this is just an allegation helping the alleging side to pose as a defending party.
Today, the conflicting parties are at the height of their capacities. So, the coming week may prove to be quite favorable for new attacks. In the autumn, the Ukrainians may reduce their troops as just like the Novorossians, they have few resources for keeping up a large army.
So, as of Aug 24, the conflicting parties in Donbass are engaged in a positional warfare of medium intensity. The configuration of the Ukrainian troops shows that they are preparing for a large-scale attack. Today, the Ukrainians have no resources for destroying the Donetsk and Lugansk republics. The best they can do with what they have is go 15-25 km deep and capture a couple of settlements.
So, today, we will hardly see the recurrence of the summer 2014, but should the Ukrainians still attempt to break into the territories of the republics, they may see their flanks exposed to counterattacks and their frontline torn into pieces. It is exactly this risk that is keeping them back from new adventures. But in terms of strategy, the Ukrainian junta certainly wants a new war as this will please the United States and will help them to distract people’s attention from economic problems.
Boris Rozhin, military analyst (Sevastopol), specially for EADaily