This is the first post in a new series that I intend to do in 1-2 week intervals every Friday. Just like Patrick Armstrong does with his RF Sitreps on Russia Insider, these sitreps are intended to cover both developments in the ongoing War in the Donbass.
On May 23, the cortege of Mozgovoy, the second most powerful man in the LNR (Lugansk) after President Plotnitsky, was shot up and he was killed along with his press secretary, driver, and bodyguards. Responsibility remains unclear. The pro-Kiev partisan organization Teni (“Shadows”) claimed responsibility, but since it frankly exists more on Facebook than anywhere else, that is unlikely.
The LNR itself blamed Ukrainian special forces, accusing them of seeking to undermine the Minsk Accords. This is a bit likelier, but there is no clear motivation for it, and it is not obvious that Ukraine has the capacity to mount a special operation of such complexity deep in the enemy rear. Objectively speaking, the most likely culprits – and this is an assessment shared by many ardent Novorossiya supporters as well as its enemies – is either Plotnitsky, the Kremlin, or both.
He was long a thorn in the LNR’s side, on bad relations with Plotnitsky personally, for his independent, populist stance and uncompromising opposition to the Minsk Accords. He wanted to press the war on until Kiev’s liberation.
But paradoxically, he also enjoyed a degree of support in the rest of the Ukraine greater than that of the other separatist leaders because of his reputation as a “genuine” person, and his stance that both the people of Donbass and Western Ukraine had a common enemy in the form of Ukraine’s oligarchs and political elites (one of the few things that most of Ukraine can agree on).
His populism and uncompromising stance was painted by his enemies as a kind of Orthodox extremism. His most infamous stunt was presiding over a “people’s trial” of a rapist who was sentenced to death (though the sentence was never carried out), and expressing ideas about the proper role of women that are, how should we put it… would have been considered unremarkable in the 19th century (though in his defense, that particular comment was clearly meant to be sarcastic).
If so, this would not be the first assassination of its kind. The warlord Alexander Bednov, nom de guerre Batman, was killed under similarly shady circumstances this January. If so, this would make it part of a ongoing project to centralize power in the breakaway republics, with the Byronic idealists who drove the initial rebellion getting displaced by toady but effective political managers vetted by Moscow. (Igor Strelkov, unlike Batman and Mozgovoy, was probably wise getting out when he did, assuming himself guaranteed invitations to Russian nationalist talk shows and conferences for life and acquiring himself a hot young wife in the process).
In his case, Buronic in the literal sense: He was also a surprisingly decent poet, and as it turns out, a tragically prophetic one, too (translation by Gleb Bazov):
|It is a gift to die in May— An easy task to dig a grave, And nightingales will sing their song Inimitably, like their last.In May, the thunder of storms supplants A funerals’ dismal songs and sounds, And rain that comes instead of tears Dissolves the memories’ regret.The shelt’ring barrow of the grave Beneath the emerald of grass; A cross is a redundant mark Among a grove of weary birch.Beneath the rustling newborn leaves, With irrepresible thirst for life, The sun has yet to burn the grass, And every thing is animate.It is a gift to die in May, To stay behind in vernal dew. And though I could not do it all, There are no doubts where none remain… It is a gift, to die in May…||Не плохо в мае умереть, Могильщику копать удобно. И соловьи всё будут петь, В последний раз, так бесподобно.Под грохот первых майских гроз, Вместо унылых отпеваний… И дождь, прольётся вместо слёз, Он смоет грусть воспоминаний.Могильный холмик приютит, Под покрывалом трав зелёных. Пусть даже крест там не стоит, Среди берёзок утомленных.Под шелест листьев молодых, Что только к жизни потянулись. Пока ещё нет трав седых, А только, только всё проснулось.Не плохо в мае умереть… Остаться в свежести весенней. И хоть не смог я всё успеть, Но не осталось уж сомнений… Не плохо, в мае умереть…|
See my main article here. In short, Saakashvili’s legend is mostly a con: His achievements in improving the economy and corruption are both massively overstated, Georgians are leaving his “Switzerland of the Caucasus” at an unprecedented rate, and his political and military decisions were complete flops. He is however good at running cargo cults in relation to the West. At least in that respect he’s the real deal. How much more pathetic is it that Ukraine is making a cargo cult of a cargo cultist?
This week saw the most severe uptick in fighting since Minsk 2, with the hottest action taking place in Maryinka on June 4 where the NAF launched a largescale counterattack in response to Ukrainian attempts to take the area a couple of days previously. In the familiar pattern, both sides accused each other of breaking the Minsk Accords, and as per usual, both were correct. These events were the single bloodiest since the Debaltseve cauldron. Regime forces claimed 5 of its soldiers dead versus 80 separatists. The separatists in their turn said they suffered 20 dead to the junta’s 400. Colonel Cassad, a pro-Novorossiya but militarily objective analyst with contacts on the ground, said the higher figures are more likely, reporting that just one NAF unit whose representatives he spoke with suffered 25 dead by itself, while total regime losses were estimated at 200.
At this point, a little aside about casualties in general, for reference in future discussions. Both sides in this conflict have sought to minimize their own casualties, while maximizing those of their enemy. Done for obvious propaganda reasons, this has frequently reached the level of farce, both on the Ukrainian side and on the Novorossiyan side.
While the “official” death count for both sides is currently at around 2,000 I suspect the real figures are probably 2x-3x higher, since “real life” accounts from both sides that I have observed during this conflict seem to very consistently paint a much bloodier picture than official figures. Be that as it may, the one thing that I will argue that we can be relatively sure of is that regime and separatist losses are approximately equal. This is dictated not by any detailed tallying or anecdotal impressions but by basic military theory. Given some rudimentary knowledge of force concentrations, equipment, attack/defense status, and the intrinsic quality of the troops (or combat effectiveness value to use the technical jargon), you can make fairly reliable predictions about relative casualties.
Applying this to the Donbass conflict, the first two are broadly equal, with the NAF now as well armed as the Ukrainian forces thanks to Russia’s military surplus stores, though the Ukrainians still probably enjoy a quantitative edge. But this is irrelevant for most engagements since what matters is achieving a preponderance of firepower at the local level, and neither side is very good at that because neither side has the capability to wage true combined arms warfare (Russia does, and the Ukrainian military would be crushed within days were it to ever overtly invade. This was true in April 2014, and it remains true today). The NAF is usually on the attack, which is bad, since the standard casualty ratio for attackers against prepared positions with everything else kept equal is 1.3:1, rising to 1.5:1 against heavily prepared positions. Hence the high casualties incurred by the NAF in the monthslong and strategically dubious assaults on Donetsk Airport. Overall troop quality is low on both sides, though by all accounts morale is much higher in the NAF. (Contrary to sensationalistic reports of Pskov paratroopers getting massacred in their thousands by Ukrainian cyborgs at the Airport, the Russian Army has for the most part avoided direct involvement in the fighting, limiting itself to logistical and informational support. The only two major exceptions to this pattern coincided with Ukraine’s two biggest defeats – the Ilovaysk and possibly the Debaltseve cauldrons).
In short, adding up all these factors, neither the UAF nor the NAF has a clear advantage, so the logical conclusion is that – whether they are closer to 2,000 or to 6,000 – casualties on both sides are broadly similar. Incidentally, this conclusion is backed up by POW counts. POWs are harder to hide than military losses. As of March 2014, some 1,800 separatists were under or had passed through Ukrainian captivity, versus 2,800 Ukrainians. This discrepancy is likely mostly or entirely explained by the higher morale of the NAF, which presumably lowers the proclivity to surrender.
Transnistria, including the big Russian military base there, is now fully blockaded on both sides. Any resupply will now have to take place by air. S-300s have been moved to Odessa, and Saakashvili has been made its governor. There are rumors – so far as I’m aware, only rumors so far – that Ukraine is building up forces along the Transnistrian border. All pretty ominous, and worth keeping an eye on. I don’t think anything really serious will come of this in the foreseeable future, but then again, you can never overestimate the insanity of the Maidan ideologues.
Novorossiya as a political project has been officially frozen, ostensibly because it is incompatible with Minsk 2. Pro-Ukrainians gloated and rejoiced. Pro-Novorossiyans wailed over yet another “betrayal,” ironically mirroring nationalist Ukrainian discourse centered around це зрада чи перемога (is this betrayal or victory?). In reality, Novorossiya as a political project died out sometime around April 24, 2014, when Putin decided against repeating the Crimean scenario in Eastern Ukraine in a meeting with his top siloviki. What use is a parliament for eight republics when only half of two of them are in said country in the first place? Since then, and especially since the appointment of Zakharchenko and Plotnitsky as heads of the DNR and the LNR in August, it has for all intents and purposes been running on empty. The two republics already possessed all the organizational structure they needed while Novorossiya’s putative head, Oleg Tsarev, had no particular roots in or connections to the Donbass, and they had no particular wish to share power and funds with alternate structures especially once Novorossiya lost most of its Kremlin backing. Nothing will substantially change on the ground. The People’s Militias will continue fighting under the umbrella Novorossiya Armed Forces, with its blue on red Saint Andrew’s cross flag.
The plan now, as it has been since April 2014, is to federalize Ukraine through the Minsk process, guaranteeing the East wide autonomy which would serve to complicate Ukraine’s integration with the EU and make NATO membership essentially impossible. Like it or not, but Novorossiya is superfluous to this. This is not a “victory,” but nor is it a betrayal. It’s an acknowledgement of today’s realities. Here are a few good articles which will provide a good background understanding of the political processes at play:
- Stuffing the Rebels back into Ukraine – Paul Robinson
- Ukraine: Confederal Solution Looms – Alexander Mercouris
- Gaming the Ukraine Crisis – Leonid Bershidsky
Besides, there is one more very important thing that particularly panicky pro-Novorossiyans should take solace in: The completely uncompromising nature of the Maidan ideologues themselves, who absolutely refuse to negotiate with the DNR and the LNR anyway.
“We must ensure fair elections. And we will conduct dialogue with the Donbass, but with a different Donbass, a Ukrainian one.” The same position, but in even harsher terms, was expressed at the Forum by the Prime-Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. He is prepared to talk to the representatives of the Republics “only once they are behind bars.” “By the way, we have enough empty cells,” he added. According to Yatsenyuk, his government will never deal with the current representatives of the Donbass. “We will communicate only with legitimate representatives of this region, and we want to conduct legitimate elections there,” said the Prime-Minister. Poroshenko also stated that in Ukraine there is no internal conflict whatsoever. “We have no internal conflicts,” said Poroshenko. “On the contrary, Ukraine has now become more united than ever.” “I will do everything possible to ensure that neither language, nor faith, nor the questions of land, nor NATO, nor any other questions split Ukraine,” promised the President. “The second language in schools and universities in Ukraine should be English, not Russian.”
Right Sector angry about DNR gun rights – DNR legalizes virtually all firearms and Right Sector has a hissy fit about it.
- “That’s right! The freaks in the DNR are allowed to have guns, while Ukrainian citizens have to call for help from useless cops.”
- “This sneaking suspicion that it is Motorola and Givi who are the ones fighting against bureaucracy…”
- “This is shameful. :(“
- “Checkmate, bitches? And if the Rada now buries the proposed law about civil firearms possession, maybe we could join the DNR under conditions of autonomy… :(“
- ‘Reuters lied’: MH17 witness says reporter falsified testimony
- German Image Forensics Expert Scoffs at Bellingcat’s Allegations of Doctored MH17 Photos
War crimes by Right Sector punitive batallions – Openly and proudly documented by one Yashka Tsygankov, a Right Sector militant, on Facebook. They attacked a DNR blockpost, killing everyone except for one person who surrendered. Here he is in captivity: I suppose it is theoretically possible that his two trigger fingers were blown off in the firefight while leaving no other visible injuries. Of course if you believe that you will believe anything. This kind of action was prevalent in the Yugoslav Wars and is the very definition of a war crime. Of course this being committed by the West’s lapdops means that Facebook will not censor it (unlike say Graham Phillips, who has been blocked from posting to Facebook many times now for posting things like the victims of Kiev’s shellings) nor will their be any outcry in their media about it. In fairness, it should be noted that he denies being tortured. But he is in captivity in some dank, dimly lit basement. So his words can’t be reasonably taken at face value.
EDIT 6/6: He has since been exchanged in a prisoner swap, and in an interview with Patrick Lancaster released just now, he has now confirmed that Right Sector did in fact cut off his index fingers (so also makes clear that previous interview was under duress, which makes Ukraine’s Channel 5 also complicit in this war crime). In response to his maiming, he said that it reinforces his belief in the justice of the Novorossiyan cause, that it is all entirely on the conscience of his captors, and that he intends to rejoin his squad and learn to shoot without his index fingers.
Want your wages? Have a call-up paper instead – Workers at a Kherson oblast plant picketing the Rada over nonpayment of their wages – the factory’s owner having become a deputy – were instead presented with mobilization papers. Recipients included disabled workers, as well as specialized workers without whom the plant would be unable to function. Corrupt deputies, unrestrained oligarchy, farcical pressganging, and the wholesale destruction of labor rights are all kind of everyday occurences in post-Maidan Ukraine, but it’s still somewhat remarkable when they all come together in such a perfect confluence. IMF comes a-calling – Yatsenyuk happily obliges.
Ukraine has stopped paying out welfare payments for pensioners, World War Two veterans, people with disabilities, liquidators of the Chernobyl disaster beginning with Monday, since the law of December 28, 2014, on stabilizing the financial condition of the state has come into force. It affects practically all social security beneficiaries, without defining the mechanisms for providing targeted assistance to low-income groups. Kiev has eliminated transport, healthcare, utilities and financial benefits for former prisoners of Nazi concentration camps and recipients of some Soviet-era orders and titles. Compensations to families with children living in the areas contaminated by radiation from the Chernobyl accident will be no longer paid either.
Stories from Oles Buzina – Translation of a 2009 article by the anti-Maidan journalist, slain by Maidanite orcs with the complicity of the Poroshenko regime and to Western indifference, by Nina Kouprianova: The SS Galizien versus Ukraine. Here are a few quotes from it:
One of the neo-Nazi parties that currently preaches the tradition of SS Galicia Division in Ukraine calls it the “treasure of the nation.” Which nation, I wonder. Like the Austrians during the Habsburg days, Germans did not place much value in the Galicians as war material. If in the Russian army, the natives of Ukraine became generals and field marshals, then in the Austrian one, they became junior officers, at best. An Austrian, Hungarian, or a Croatian native could have a brilliant military career in the Habsburg Empire, but not Galicians. … Not only the commanders of Galicia Division were German, but also the entire headquarters and the vast majority of officers all the way to the company members. Brigadeführer Fritz Freitag led the Division. Major Wolf-Dietrich Heike ran the operations department. Intelligence was under Hauptsturmführer Fritz Niermann. Supply department—under Hauptsturmführer Herbert Schaaf. Sturmbannführer Erich Finder was the Commander’s aide. Friedrich Lenhardt and Herbert Hähnel were assignments officers. Karl Wildner, Hans Otto Forstreuter, Paul Herms, Karl Bristot, and Friedrich Beyersdorff commanded the regiments. Even the pharmacist was German—Hauptsturmführer Werner Benecke (not to be confused with any Beniuk [a Ukrainian name—ed.] by any means!). According to Andrei Bolianovskii, the Division “got a German command spine.” … The Germans filled Galicia with new soldiers from among those volunteers that they initially rejected, no longer embarrassed of their height, but ones who were almost never used in open battles against the regular units of the Red Army. The main task for these “divisioners” was fighting Slovak and Yugoslav guerrillas. Once Galicians even had a skirmish with Ukrainian partisans under Kovpak, who carried out a sabotage raid into Slovakia. German command valued the military qualities of SS Galicia very little. For example, only one of its members was awarded the Iron Cross—Commander Freitag himself—whereas these awards were not uncommon in other Waffen-SS divisions.
But really worth reading in full, not only to see what Buzina was about, but because it is pretty interesting and eye-opening stuff, and you can really see why it would incite such raging murderous hatred on the parts of Ukrainian nationalists.
Poroshenko Corruption – Curious that it is the RFERL writing about this: Questions Raised Over Poroshenko’s Role In Valuable Kyiv Land Deal.