Ukraine civil war

Kindly translated by Anne-Marie de Grazia.

The military situation in Eastern Ukraine is presently evolving in favour of the insurgents. Before having a look at a description of the operations, we must make a number of remarks.

  • (1) In the TV news-journal of Saturday, August 23, the reporting by France-2 journalists has been exceptionally candid. The bombardments by the forces loyal to the Kiev government, their random character (a hospital and a school were hit) and their dramatic consequences have been shown. This may signal a turn in the media coverage of this civil war.
  • (2) Which brings us to examine the words which are used in order to describe the situation. The Kiev government uses the words “anti-terrorist operation”, which is a shameful masquerade. Whether one approves the insurgents or not, they ARE NOT terrorists, or then they are terrorists to the extent that the French resistance fighters were, who were also labelled “terrorists” by the Vichy government and the Germans. The abusive use of the word “terrorist” conceals the truth. In reality, it is the Kiev government which is attempting to terrorise the civilian population of Donetsk and Lugansk through random bombardments of non-military targets. The difference in treatment between Syria and Ukraine is striking. All things being equal, the Kiev government is making use of the same means which were held against Bachar el-Assad some time ago. The insurgents may be qualified as members of an independence movement, (which they have in their majority become), even as separatists. The epithet of “pro-Russian” which is being used, particularly by France-2, is stupid. The leaders of the insurgent movement have never asked to be joined to Russia. For the time being, they are demanding that their autonomy be recognized. Let’s also remember that, unlike in Crimea, the Russian government has never recognized the validity of the referenda for independence which were held in Eastern Ukraine.

Information sources at disposal, from journalists as well as blogs, and in particular  and the Voice of Sevastopol , allow us to get a more precise idea of the evolution of the military situation on the ground.

  • (a) The forces loyal to the Kiev government continue their frontal attacks on Ilovaysk, South of Donetsk. Despite a superiority in numbers of 1 to 5 (even, according to some, of 1 to 7), according to one of my correspondents they have made no progress and have suffered very heavy losses. This is due as much to the quality of the insurgents’ militia forces as to a series of rather gross tactical errors committed by the Kiev forces. Attacks have been carried on repeatedly along the same axes, and in “small parcels.” North of Donetsk, the Kiev forces have been pushed back, the settlement of Yasinovataya has been taken back by the insurgents and the one of Uglegorsk could be taken back within 48h. Fighting occurred around the cities of Severodonetsk and Lisishansk, but the insurgent forces seem for the time being too short in numbers to be be able to retake these two cities.
  • Map 1


  • (b) The assault against Lugansk also seems to have failed. The insurgents have taken back Khryashevatoye and are advancing towards Lutugino. If they are able to retake it, they will considerably reinforce their positions and will secure the control of the road Lugansk-Krasnyi Lutsh, opening up the city from the South. Such developments could intervene Sunday night or Monday morning, taking into account the lack of reserves of the Kiev forces.
  • Map 2
  • Lugansk
  • (c)   In order to concentrate the means necessary for the operations against Donetsk and Lugansk, the Kiev forces had to withdraw troops from part of the Southward front. As a result, the insurgents have found an extremely important “hole” in the deployment of the Kiev forces in the direction of the Sea of Azov, more precisely towards Novoazovsk and Mariupol. Insurgent units seems to have carried out a raid up to the surroundings of Novoazovsk, provoking a beginning of panic in the ranks of the Kiev forces. The latter have no choice: if they want to avoid a (very) nasty surprise, they will have to remove some their means concentrated around Donetsk in order to defend Mariupol et Novoazovsk.
  • Map 3
  • Novoazovsk

One may ask then what explains such a reversal of the situation. There are several reasons:

  • (a) The Kiev forces are employed very badly and their morale seems to be in a free-fall. The regular forces are badly commanded. Some do not seem to have much taste for this civil war. Part of the deployed troops remain inactive.
  •  (b) The forces of the « National Guard » seem to have been dispatched by the Kiev government to be massacred, in the hope that the insurgents will rid the Kiev government of the most dangerous and hyperactive of the militants of  “Pravyi Sektor” and of “Svoboda.” It must be pointed out here that the President is facing a moving political situation in Kiev. If he was able to obtain a majority by triggering hostilities, it is also possible that he is hoping that these hostilities will result in the destruction of the most extremist groups.
  • (c)  There seem to be important disagreements within the Kiev general staff, be it between the Minister of Defence and the senior officers as well as between the latter and the Ukrainian intelligence services (the SBU).
  • (d) According to videos and to the witness reports of journalists present in the combat zones, the quality of the insurgent combatants, without being outstanding, seems to be better than the one of the Kiev troops. Their morale is good, even excellent, and these troops are fighting on a terrain well known to them, as it is often the place where they live. There have been several cases reported where the civil population, which suffers considerably from the bombings by the Kiev army, provides precious help to the insurgents. It must be pointed out that, despite the Kiev government’s assertions, it has remained incapable of producing a proof of the presence of regular Russian forces fighting on the side of the insurgents. This does not mean that one can exclude the presence of “advisers.” But, for the time being, the various statements about the presence of regular troops could not be proven.

In any case, the situation is evolving rather in favour of the insurgents since August 15th. From this point of view, the visit of Mrs Merkel on Saturday 08/23 must be replaced in context. Mrs Merkel has restated the will of the European Union to see the sovereignty of Kiev maintained over the totality of its territory. But the latter is by now deeply compromised. The only possibility would be a rapid cease-fire occurring in the days to come, and the recognition of the insurgent authorities in exchange for their, evidently formal, recognition of Kiev’s authority over their regions. One would end up with the solution once recommended by the Russian leaders for Kosovo. As we know, the NATO countries supported the declaration of independence of Kosovo. This precedent considerably weakens Mrs Merkel’s position. As the Kiev government doesn’t appear to have the means of overcoming the insurgents by force, it is probable that the best that one might hope for would be a de facto cease-fire occurring in the coming days. It is therefore in the interest of the insurgents to push their advantage wherever possible. The possibility of a collapse of Kiev’s defences in the region of Novoazovsk, which would give the insurgents an access to the sea, cannot be excluded. We shouldn’t therefore be expecting immediate results from Tuesday 26th encounter between Putin and Poroshenko, even if the principle of a cease-fire could be discussed at this occasion.

Breaking News

The situation is fast evolving now. Kiev’s forces collapsed in the South and toward the Azov Sea. The insurgents have been able to launch a counter-offensive and to capture the city of Novoazovk without true fighting by Monday August 25th. In the same time insurgent forces have been able to encircle a huge part of Kiev’s forces in the South of Donetsk. The crumbling of the Ukrainian Army in this sector is unmistakable and Kiev’s forces have retreated by Monday night to Mariupol.

Map 4


In the same time another counter-offensive is taking place on the North-West of Lugansk. The whole Kiev’s operation against insurgents seems to be seriously off-balance. If Kiev wants to stabilize the situation around Mariupol it will need to take units back from the north, and this will create another opportunity for insurgent forces to roll Kiev’s forces back to Slaviansk, and may be farther.

Jacques Sapir

Ses travaux de chercheur se sont orientés dans trois dimensions, l’étude de l’économie russe et de la transition, l’analyse des crises financières et des recherches théoriques sur les institutions économiques et les interactions entre les comportements individuels. Il a poursuivi ses recherches à partir de 2000 sur les interactions entre les régimes de change, la structuration des systèmes financiers et les instabilités macroéconomiques. Depuis 2007 il s'est impliqué dans l’analyse de la crise financière actuelle, et en particulier dans la crise de la zone Euro.

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