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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Ukraine Live Day 492

Publication: Ukraine Liveblogs
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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Watching For Patterns Within the Fighting In Ukraine

Here is the map posted by the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council. As you can see, fighting is once again widespread:


As you can see, the amount of fighting reported by Ukraine is significantly higher than it was just weeks ago. This video, made by The Interpreter, combines the maps made by the NSDC over the last two months. There are several trends which are important to watch.

1) Notice the general trend that the amount of incidents reported by the NSDC, the amount of "flames", expand both in number and in affected territory.

2) Pay close attention to how the flames jump around. Though certain areas are under near-constant attack, other areas are sporadically under attack. The front line, then, is constantly rotating. This conforms to our theory that the Russian-backed fighters continue to shift their attacks, probing many areas at once, then shifting attacks to nearby areas, all the while plunging "fingers" deeper into Ukrainian territory in the process. 

3) For all of the fighting near Donetsk, notice the large amounts of fighting between Donetsk and Mariupol, near Gorlovka, and north of Lugansk. Mariupol and Donetsk continue to grab international headlines, but the fighting on these other fronts may be far more important, strategically, to the Russian-backed fighters.

Note how that matches the other reports today from the NSDC:

The latest OSCE report is dated last night, June 23, at 19:30 Kiev time. A few observations are below.

Here is the OSCE SMM summary:

The situation at and around Donetsk airport remained tense. Between 12:35 and 18:00hrs, at the Joint Centre for Control and Co-ordination (JCCC) observation point at Donetsk central railway station (“Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR”)-controlled, 8km north-west of Donetsk city centre), the SMM heard, and in some cases saw, 139 explosions consistent with artillery, mortar fire (82mm and 120mm) impacting 2.5-10km to the north, north-east, north-north-east, north-north-west, north-west, south-west and west. Fighting was ongoing throughout the afternoon, despite two attempts by the JCCC to broker a ceasefire between the parties.[1] The situation remained relatively calm in Mariupol and Shyrokyne.

At the JCCC headquarters in Soledar (government-controlled, 75km north-east of Donetsk), the SMM was presented with two logbooks, compiled independently by the Ukrainian Armed Forces and the Russian Federation Armed Forces representatives at the JCCC. The Ukrainian Armed Forced recorded 107 ceasefire violations, while the Russian Federation logbook contained 119 violations. Both attributed a significantly higher number of ceasefire violations to the “DPR” and the “Lugansk People’s Republic” (“LPR”). The Ukrainian Major-General, Head of the Ukrainian side to the JCCC, highlighted the humanitarian situation in Shyrokyne and Marinka areas, where villages had been without water or electricity for days. Supported by the SMM, the sides began negotiating a ceasefire, necessary for repair works to be carried out by Voda Donbassa. 

The OSCE also reports significant problems near Lugansk, where lack of access to water is threatening to cause a humanitarian crisis:

In the Luhansk region, the overall situation remained tense. The JCCC in Luhansk informed the SMM that after an alleged recent shelling of a water pumping station at the Raivka (“LPR”-controlled, 16km north-west of Luhansk), an area inhabited by around 30,000 people was experiencing water shortage, including Metalist (“LPR”-controlled, 6km north of Luhansk). According to the interlocutor, in the coming days, the water shortage was also expected to affect Luhansk city.

On 23 June, the SMM met the deputy head of the Luhansk regional state administration, presented data to the SMM, indicating that around 20,000 people were left without access to water in government-controlled Popasna, Bobrove, Bobrovske, Toshkivka, Nyzhne, Svitlychne, Novotoshkivske and in LPR-controlled Pervomaisk.

Also due to the shelling, electricity cables had been destroyed in government-controlled Trokhizbenka, Kriakivka, Orikhove, Lobachevo, Lopaskine, Gravove, Orikhove, Krymske, Novozvanivka, and Troitske. According to the deputy governor, 5,000 people were therefore left without electricity.

In Kniahynivka (“LPR”-controlled, 58km south-west of Luhansk), the SMM spoke with a group of eight men (30-60 years old), who used to work in the nearby mine, which remains closed due to flooding after fighting has disrupted the electricity supply to water pumps last summer. The interlocutors informed that, given an increase in prices locally, people from the area now go to “DPR”-controlled territory to buy food and non-food items.

But the real headline in the OSCE report is toward the bottom. OSCE observers witnessed large amounts of armored vehicles moving south of Donetsk, in an area close to where The Interpreter has established that the Russian-backed fighters are building a base:

The SMM re-visited one Ukrainian Armed Forces heavy weapons holding area, the location of which was in compliance with the withdrawal lines according to the Minsk Package, and observed that one multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) (Uragan BM-27) was missing. The SMM was told that the system was moved to an unspecified location in western Ukraine, since it was no longer operational.

At the same site, the SMM noted a new MLRS Uragan BM-27 and three mobile anti-aircraft batteries, not previously observed. The SMM visited three “DPR”-controlled holding areas, where it observed: weaponry previously recorded were in situ at the first and second sites, while at the third site, SMM was prevented full access by the “DPR” and only allowed to view the weaponry from a distance of about 15 or 20m, which did not allow for the verification of serial numbers.* The location of the sites was in compliance with the withdrawal lines according to the Minsk Package.

Despite claims that the withdrawal of heavy weapons was complete, the SMM observed the following weapons’ movements in areas that are in violation of Minsk withdrawal lines. In “DPR”-controlled areas north-east of Mariupol, the SMM unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) observed 1 main battle tank (MBT), 1 mortar and 3 artillery pieces. In addition, in the area of Komsomolske (43km south-south-east of Donetsk), the UAV observed 7 MBTs and in a quarry nearby 12 APCs being loaded with ammunition, forming a convoy, which proceeded to Vasylivka and further to Michurine (61km south of Donetsk). In the same sector, an additional 9 MBTs and 10 APCs were also seen. Around Ternove (“DPR”-controlled, 54km east of Donetsk centre), the UAV spotted a training area and substantial shelling marks and was able to identify 38 MBTs, 7 towed artillery pieces, 12 military trucks, and 6 APCs. In government-controlled areas north-east of Mariupol the UAV spotted 4 MBTs.

See our report here: 

-- James Miller
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Latest Round of Peace Talks End Without "Concrete Results"

The foreign ministers of France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine met yesterday in Paris to discuss the stalling peace process. No tangible results were achieved, except a new pledge to end the crisis through peaceful means. RFE/RL reports:

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said afterward that the four agreed to "not allow a breakdown" of a peace deal reached in February.

"There is a sense that there are powers who would like to destroy this process," Lavrov told reporters in Paris. "I won't name them. But such forces exist. Many for different reasons prefer military, security scenarios; many do not want the situation to calm down, but to the contrary they want it to worsen. Today all four ministers firmly spoke out against such efforts."

Lavrov's statements don't differ significantly from previous statements regularly made by the Russian government. However, the statements also clash with the assessment of many Western governments that Russia is arming the Ukrainian separatists and is even sending active-duty Russian soldiers to train them and lead them in battle.

The Associated Press adds additional details:

A statement released by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on behalf of the participants in the meeting called for quick de-escalation of hostilities to allow progress on longer-term aspects of the peace deal. Those include an array of political, security, humanitarian and economic questions such as the contentious issue of how much autonomy the rebel regions could achieve.

None of these statements address several central sticking points in the peace process:

- The Separatists reject the Minsk agreements because they're "separatists." -- Both the Minsk agreement signed in September and "Minsk II" signed in February call for hostilities to end so that reconciliation can be found between the embattled regions in the Donbass and the Ukrainian government. The ultimate and clearly-stated aim of both agreements is that the Donbass is part of Ukraine, and after the war has ended and elections are held according to Ukrainian law, then the Donbass will be granted greater autonomy. The leadership of the Russian-backed separatists, on the other hand, reject this most central clause and want independence from Ukraine or perhaps even unity with Russia. It's hard to imagine how the peace process can move forward as long as this issue is in doubt.

- Ukraine, NATO, and the European Union maintain that Russia is arming the separatists and sending its own soldiers to fight against Ukraine. How, then, can it pursue a peace process which it is working to undermine.

- On June 3 a military offensive was launched by Russian-backed fighters. The battle, which was clearly observed by the OSCE, involved significant levels of troops, armor, and artillery. As a result, Ukraine mobilized thousands of soldiers in order to hold the town of Marinka. In the midst of that fighting, the Ukrainian General Staff announced that they had no choice but to mobilize their heavy weaponry, in violation of the Minsk agreement, in order to defeat this threat which was itself a blatant violation of the Minsk accord.

- In the weeks leading up to the battle in Marinka, the OSCE observed large amounts of separatist weapons and significantly smaller amounts of Ukrainian weapons out of compliance with Minsk. In the weeks which have followed the battle, the OSCE has witnessed even larger amounts of weapons out of compliance, operated by both sides.

Put simply, attacks by Russian-backed leaders are violations of Minsk, Ukraine's response is a violation of Minsk, the Ukrainian separatist leaders say they have no interest in unification -- the central tenet of Minsk -- and the OSCE, put in place to monitor this crisis, routinely says that the Minsk agreement is broken by both sides (though the OSCE refuses to assign blame). The peace process exists in name only.

It's no surprise, then, that no agreement was met yesterday. AP reports:

OSCE negotiators met Tuesday in Minsk, Belarus with representatives of Russia and Ukraine about implementing the February agreement, but reported no progress.

"We cannot talk about any concrete results today, but the work continues," said Heidi Tagliavini, the OSCE representative in the so-called Contact Group, which also includes representatives of Russia and Ukraine.

A sixth round of the talks was scheduled for July 7.

-- James Miller