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Published in Stream:
Ukraine Live Day 362
Press by
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
With Half an Hour Until Ceasefire, Great Skepticism as Zakharchenko Announces Any Debaltsevo Break-Out Will be 'Violation'
5 years
Russian-Backed Rebels 'Destroying' Debaltsevo with Russian Armor, Says Ukraine
Ceasefire Goes into Effect in Southeast Ukraine - But Will it Hold? Reports of Violations Already

With an hour to go until the ceasefire in Russia's war on Ukraine is to go into effect at midngith, Kiev time, there's a fair amount of skepticism that it will hold.

A key reason is because Aleksandr Zakharchenko, the prime minister of the self-declared "Donetsk People's Republic" has claimed that any attempt by Ukrainian forces to break out of the encirclement of the key hub of Debaltsevo will be treated as "a violation of the cease fire."

Russian-backed militants and the Russian state media have essentially declared victory over Debaltsevo, but it may be premature as Semyon Semyonchenko, commander of the Donbass Battalion, says Ukrainian forces have reportedly once again cleared the road to it - which is essential to keep their claim to their own city.

The struggle over the city of Debaltsevo -- required to gain control of the land bridge to Russian-occupied Crimea -- has been a key feature of the war so far.

Many civilians have fled Debaltsevo with the help of UNHCR and local relief groups if they can -- but some who are too old or infirm or caring for small children haven't been able to leave -- an estimated 5,000 people.

Translation: women of Debaltsevo pouring tears from the actions of Russian fascists as they leave their home.

At a press conference today broadcast by the pro-Kremlin LifeNews, close to Russian intelligence, Zakharchenko laid out his attitude toward the Minsk accord. While Russian ultranationalists and the supporters of "Novorossiya" in southeastern Ukraine may feel it doesn't serve them (and may be part of a propaganda barrage to create that impression), the DNR leader is happy with it.

Translation by The Interpreter:

Reporter: What do you think of the Minsk agreements for the DNR?

Zakharchenko: You know, in fact it's a great victory, no matter how paradoxical that sounds because we're in a position to change Ukraine as such in fact - Ukraine, and the constitution, and the opinion of people and on the whole the political processes that occur there, it turns out, they're under our control in fact. And everything that took place before the Minsk meeting, this Debaltsevo Kettle, and even the fact that Poroshenko did not acknowledge it, although French and German intelligence said the Kettle existed, that's an indicator of the fact that Ukraine is now under fire, under political fire and economic fire, in general, and how this will all turn out...It will just be sad for the Ukraine people...ordinary people, it's really suffering great casualties now. But you know, I feel much sorry for my own countrymen, our children, who are shelled, and die every day.


What happened in Minsk is the latest serious attempt by the presidents of the European states and the president of the Russian Federation to explain to the whole world, including to Ukraine that any war is worse than even the worst peace, yes?

Zakharchenko, just like his opponents, complained about the vague formulations of the Minsk agreement that would admit various interpretations. Even so, it was a plus for him because it gives Russia and him a foot in the door to simply grab more territory. The "Special Status of the Donbass" law speaks of "certain districts of the Donetsk and Lugansk Regions" because the DNR and LNR do not control all of these regions. But Zakharchenko makes clear that he believes he is entitled to all of the regions:

I said in Minsk, and will say now, all the territory of Donetsk Region, which at this time remains occupied is the territory of the Donetsk People's Republic. What way we will take this, militarily or politically, believe me, it doesn't matter. Politically is even more advantageous for the simple reason that it's better, we won't lose people. [...] Any shedding of blood is worth it in order to talk and then try to resolve it peacefully. If it doesn't work, we have shown the world that we are capable of resolving this militarily. We have repeatedly shown this.

As for Debaltsevo, Zakharchenko regards this town within Donetsk Region as one to which the DNR is entitled, though Ukraine has held it, but is now encircled, and is still fighting for the road.

There is not a single word in the Minsk agreement about Debaltsevo. That means that Ukraine simply betrayed the 5,000 people who are now in the Debaltsevo Kettle. We will cease fire throughout the whole territory of the Donetsk People's Republic excluding the interior region, that region is Debaltsevo. Any attempt of the Ukrainian Armed Forces to break out of the Debaltsevo Kettle or to blockade it will be treated by us as a violation of the Minsk agreement, and naturally these attempts will be cut off and be destroyed. I've given that order to our armed forces, so everyone is ready and everyone is waiting.

Russian war propaganda will go on portraying any attempt by Ukraine to defend its own territory as breaking a cease-fire, and yet clearly the Russian-backed militants -- unmistakeably with Russian armor and Russian troops -- will grab as much territory as they can before the ceasefire goes into effect -- and likely afterward, as we have seen since the Minsk agreement was first attempted in September.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick