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Interfax quoted A V Zakharchenko, the Chairman of the DNR Government, as saying, “Fighting continues; we’re trying to link up with the LNR, to combine our forces”. On Русской весне (Russian Spring), Shurigin offered the following commentary on the military situation opened by the recent fighting in the Donbass, “According to the most comprehensive estimates, the bandits lost at least 350 killed and 900 wounded, and lost 40 tanks, 80 AF/MICVs and 100 guns and mortars. During the ten days of fighting, VSN casualties amounted to 150 killed and 400 wounded, losing 10 tanks and 30 artillery pieces and mortars”.

The junta command had to pull strategic reserves from the Slavyansk, Artyomovsk, and Lisichansk to prevent a breach in their lines and to keep the troops Debaltsevo pocket from being cut off. However, they held the front; the reserves didn’t enter action, allowing the junta the option to open its own offensive operations. In turn, the VSN has to keep a reserve in case of a junta counterattack, it can only support the advance of its forward elements with artillery, which reduces the rate of advance and doesn’t allow them to enlarge tactical successes effectively. The VSN launched its offensive after junta shelling killed 13 civilians at a bus stop in Donetsk. Today, in Gorlovka, Zakharchenko again confirmed that the main objective of the offensive was to make further junta shelling of major Donbass cities impossible.

Its initial defeats generated a defeatist mood in the junta forces. Andrei Beletsky, the commander of the Azov Battalion said, “We weren’t ready for the current confrontation. The generals and politicians have already lost their war”. Now, the fiercest fighting is near Debaltsevo, where the junta forces are in a virtual pocket. However, despite this, they still receive reinforcements. Apparently, in connection with events on the afternoon of 26 January, “Prime Minister” A P Yatsenyuk said that the junta introduced a high alert throughout the country and a state of emergency in Novorossiya.

Rostislav Ishchenko, President of the Centre of Systems Analysis and Forecasting, commenting on Свободной прессе (Free Press), said,

“Yatsenyuk’s decision changes nothing. As Poroshenko refuses to impose martial law, Yatsenyuk, as the head of civil defence, can impose a state of emergency. He did that, but it’s really nothing but a symbolic gesture. In practise, it added nothing new to what we see in the Ukraine”.

Aleksandr Perendzhiev, political scientist and military expert, observed, “Commanders and troops of the VSN are united in the belief that it’s necessary to liberate all the DNR and LNR. In the meantime, their immediate task is to push the front away from Donetsk, to safeguard the city from further junta shelling. Again, as it was at the end of August last year, the most pressing situation is the liberation of Mariupol. I think that the VSN should take it, as it’d be a turning point in the liberation of the LNR and DNR national territory. In addition, it’d immediately increase the geopolitical weight of Novorossiya. Mariupol as a port would it give it a certain economic self-sufficiency.

The Свободной прессе presenter asked Perendzhiev, “How is the fighting going, and how can we judge the direction of the VSN offensive, where is it going next?” Perendzhiev replied,

“With regard to the number of weapons, it’s difficult to say who has more of them now. However, clearly, the VSN is superior to the enemy in terms of morale. Almost all troops are motivated to continue the war until victory. Most junta troops don’t want to fight. They only think about how they get out of the war alive. Of course, the junta’s ‘volunteer’ battalions also have high motivation, but they mostly show their ‘heroism’ against civilians. In combat conditions, they don’t ‘stand up and fight’. In addition, the decomposition of the junta continues. The ground beneath their feet is increasingly shaky. The fact that the ‘volunteer battalions’ are refusing to go to the most critical sections of the front illustrates this. Apparently, they hold back so that they can protect their paymasters in the case of societal collapse or so that they could bring their paymasters to power. I think that the anniversary of the Maidan victory should bring in some action… it’s possible that there may even be another coup. After all, many Ukrainian political elements believe that they didn’t get what they deserved after Yanukovich’s overthrow. The Right Sector may well say that the junta robbed it of victory. In any case, political instability in Kiev will lead to further demoralisation in the junta forces. Until then, probably, the VSN wouldn’t initiate a large-scale offensive, but will continue to besiege the enemy in local operations”.

The presenter broke in, “Zakharchenko said that the VSN hadn’t shelled Mariupol and they don’t intend to do that. Is it possible to liberate Mariupol and other major cities and towns without artillery bombardment?” Perendzhiev replied, “I think that it’s quite possible. They’d have to take encircling settlements and gradually squeeze out the enemy. I’d call it a military-police operation”. The presenter retorted, “That’d mean that the VSN would have larger losses”. Perendzhiev shot back, “Such tactics would win the sympathy of the local population, which in turn would help reduce VSN casualties”.

Donbass militias-2

Vyacheslav Tetyokin, a KPRF member of the RF Gosduma Committee on Defence, said, “I think that the junta still has an advantage in numbers, they can still call up more men in new waves of mobilization, and they still have more equipment in their depots that they can try to bring up to operational condition. However, history shows us that often a small mobile and motivated army can defeat numerically larger enemy armies. We see something similar in Novorossiya. The VSN is successful against larger, but weaker, junta forces. Mainly, most of the hastily raised junta troops don’t want to fight. On the other hand, the VSN is willing to sacrifice. They have something to defend and die for… you can’t say that about the junta forces. In addition, as time goes on, as volunteers enter the VSN, and as it defeats the junta forces, the military potential of the parties is becoming equivalent”.

The presenter asked Tetyokin, “In your opinion, will the VSN liberate Mariupol without an artillery bombardment?” Vyacheslav Nikolayevich said, “Firstly, I’d like to say that the monstrous hypocrisy of the West and the Kiev junta amazes me. They refuse to acknowledge the dozens of civilians killed by shelling in Donetsk, Pervomaisk, Gorlovka, and other cities in the DNR and LNR. However, as soon as an opportunity to blame the shelling of Mariupol upon the VSN, they raised a universal lament. Speaking of crimes, let’s remember who bombarded Slavyansk in May. Furthermore, I’m sure that the Kiev junta has perpetrated monstrous provocations. They needed to blame something on the Novorossiyans, just as they did with the MH17 incident, to show the whole world ‘VSN atrocities’. I’m convinced that the rocket strike in Mariupol was on the direct orders of the Kiev junta, as the VSN offensive terribly scares them. They need the international community to put pressure on Russia, so that the Russians would force Novorossiya to return to the defence and return to ‘negotiations’. With regard to the use of artillery, look at the tactics of the junta forces themselves… they stormed cities in Novorossiya and destroyed them with their shelling. There wasn’t any military necessity for this. VSN strongpoints are usually outside city limits. If they are within the city, modern artillery direction allows one to direct strikes to within a few metres. However, the junta forces destroy without justification. As for the VSN, it’s shown that they’re able to liberate areas using only infantry. I think that they could do the same in their advance on Mariupol”.

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On Saturday, 24 January, the VSN (Novorossiya Armed Forces) launched an offensive on all fronts. A V Zakharchenko, Chairman of the DNR Government, said, “Kiev isn’t aware that we can advance on three fronts simultaneously. There won’t be any more ceasefires. We’ll beat the so-called ‘punitive force’ and throw it beyond the borders of the DNR”. It didn’t take long for reality to bear out his words.

By Свободная Пресса

Donbass militias-6

Krasny Partizan and Gorlovka

On Saturday morning, Vladislav Brig, Deputy of the DNR People’s Soviet and Deputy Chairman of the People’s Soviet Foreign Affairs Committee, confirmed that the VSN offensive went in three different directions, saying, “Today, the junta withdrew its troops from Dzerzhinsk. In the LNR, Cossacks and “Prizrak” advanced on Popasnaya and Troitse, trapping junta forces in a pocket. Another pocket is forming near Debaltsevo. Near Gorlovka, the VSN took Krasnaya Partizan and Troitse, and it’s clearing out Sumy. I understand that the offensive would go on towards Mariupol”.

Later on, near noon, reports came in that Krasny Partizan had fallen. DNR sources said, “Junta forces and Right Sector elements occupied Krasny Partizan between Donetsk and Gorlovka. Our forces asked them to leave the village before storming it, but the bandits refused to accept our offer. Junta forces lost a few dead in the ensuing operation, the rest fled or surrendered. Afterwards, the VSN shelled Yasinovataya from positions in Krasny Partizan. As the frontline moves away from Donetsk, the number of attacks and shelling on the city diminishes”.

The taking of Krasny Partizan didn’t mean that the offensive was over. According to Yevgeni from the VSN Vostok Brigade, on Saturday, the garrison of Gorlovka (the day before, junta artillery fired around the clock on the village, killing three civilians) stormed junta positions at the Uglegorsky Reservoir. Yevgeni said that this was a must-have target. The Gorlovka garrison repulsed a junta armoured attack backed by BM-21 Grad MRLs.

On Mariupol

That same morning, near Mariupol, junta forces fired Grads at VSN positions; an artillery duel ensued. Soon, reports came in that the VSN began freeing Mariupol and that the junta forces were in retreat. Rustam Temirgaliev, former Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of the Crimea posted on his Facebook page, “They’re 280 kilometres away from the Crimea”. Later, DNR Chairman Zakharchenko confirmed that the VSN was on the offensive near Mariupol. Dmitri Steshin, a Komsomolskaya Pravda war correspondent, commented, “The left bank of Mariupol is on fire. They say that the Azov Battalion fled in panic”.

In an attempt to hide their defeat, the bandits shelled the eastern outskirts of Mariupol, and blamed it on the VSN. MVDU sources alleged that shells exploded near shops and markets, killing 20 people and about 80 went to hospital with fragment wounds. The VSN categorically rejected any involvement in the shelling, stating, “The VSN near Mariupol has no artillery systems that could bombard the specified area, as it’s too far from our positions to the specified place. According to our information, the fire came from Stary Krym Raion, where there are junta positions.

According to our current information, one can assume that this was a junta provocation”. Irina Gudyma, an OSCE representative, stated that the OSCE sent a special monitoring mission to the place where the shellfire took place, saying, “Later on, we’ll release a report on the operational situation”. Meanwhile, the artillery duels near Mariupol didn’t subside. The Forward Edge of the Battle Area (FEBA) moved steadily nearer to the city. In particular, fighting raged near Vinogradnoe, on the coast, south of the Novoazovsk road. In a northeasterly direction, an artillery duel went back and forth, 6-10 kilometres from Mariupol Ilyich Steelworks.

In the evening, we caught up with Komsomolskaya Pravda war correspondent Steshin; this is how he described the situation:

The VSN has long prepared for this offensive. They did this during the ceasefire, an action that many labelled a betrayal. During this time, I saw with my own eyes how they transformed a ragtag militia into an organised army command, as well as cleaning up the “Makhnos” that appear in all civil wars. Now, we can really hope that Novorossiya has superiority in military forces, not only in equipment, but also in the motivation to fight. Full-scale hostilities haven’t yet begun… what we have now is probes of the enemy. However, we can assume that one of the main strikes will be on Mariupol, since liberating the Azov Sea coast all the way to Kherson has geopolitical significance for the Russian World. We know very well how the Ukraine maligned the Crimea in the last few months… “Wherever you go, the light is off”. It’s clear that such bullying will continue. At the ferry? In the summer, I waited for the ferry for 36 hours, with a 2-year-old child in my arms. However, I was on the way to rest… how about those who were crossing permanently?!

In short, the main strike will be on Mariupol; that’ll be the deciding action. Besides this, it’s sure that the VSN will clear the Debaltsevo pocket. In addition, the VSN in the LNR will try to pocket junta forces near Schastye, and clear the border with Russia. Right now, information from Mariupol is sketchy. However, local residents confirm that fighting is already going on near the city. The VSN took Vinogradnoe (until recently, controlled by junta forces), and it’s reached easily from DNR-controlled territory. According to VSN sources fighting in Mariupol in the northeast neighbourhoods, the VSN forces have taken position in multi-storey buildings. I just returned from the first settlement liberated by the VSN… Krasnaya Partizan. This means that the road to Gorlovka is now open. Only occasional shelling hits the motorway to Donetsk. In short, people breathe easier…

The Junta Throws in its Reserves

Meanwhile, the junta hastily threw in reserves. Convoys from Dnepropetrovsk and Kharkov Oblasts moved towards Donetsk and Svetlodarsk. Residents Krasnoarmeisk, Artemovska, Kramatorsk, and Konstantinovka confirmed redeployment of junta units. According to VSN intel, near Donetsk, the bandits transferred a unit of 300 troops to Konstantinovka from near Gorlovka, reinforced by 10 tanks and a mortar battery {this is the combat elements of a motor rifle battalion with a tank company attached: editor}.

Presumably, it came from the 90 Airmobile Brigade. In addition, in Vodyanoe, six kilometres northwest of Donetsk, a junta battalion arrived, reinforced by nine tanks and artillery. Near Lugansk, in Orekhovo-Donetsk, the junta also transferred two battalion battlegroups, perhaps, from 80 Airmobile Brigade.

How will the VSN further develop the offensive? We can see the flashpoints today. In the near term, perhaps, one could see fighting in Peski, partly occupied by the VSN and partly occupied by the bandits, and Avdeyevka, which remains under junta control. Doubtlessly, there’d be heavy fighting for Gorlovka and Debaltsevo… as it’s a strategically important town on the motorway between Donetsk and Lugansk, and it’d hem in the junta forces.. It’s logical to assume that the VSN would strike out of Debaltsevo towards Lisichansk and Severodonetsk. However, the main question is whether the VSN will punch a corridor to the west, to open up an overland route to the Crimea.

Bogdan Bezpalko, Deputy Director of the Centre for Belarusian and Ukrainian Studies at Lomonosov MGU, said:

We still don’t know the real potential of the VSN; we don’t know if they have enough material and human reserves to meet this challenge. Besides this, we don’t know what’d emerge in the near term in the international situation. Let’s remember that on 22 January, Andrzej Duda, the presidential candidate of Poland’s largest opposition party “Law and Justice”, said in an interview on RMF FM radio that his bloc was in favour of using Polish troops in combat operations in the Ukraine, to support a neighbour in the fight against “Russian aggression”. However, other Eastern European politicians don’t think like Duda. I don’t rule out that major international players may want to use the Polish military in the Ukraine, not least because the Ukraine is running out of “cannon fodder”. In short, the confrontation in Novorossiya is dynamic; today, it isn’t clear how it’ll develop. Perhaps, the VSN offensive will open up a corridor to the Crimea. On the other hand, maybe, it’d just advance to the borders of the DNR and LNR, take Mariupol, get access to the sea and a port, and begin to build an independent state. In any case, an independent Novorossiya… even if it were just the DNR and LNR… would be a major blow to the project of a unified Ukraine.

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