Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 17.06.2018
Russia is invading Ukraine in Crimea and Donbas. On the battlefront in Donbas, Russia has been bombarding Ukrainian defenders and civilians, violating the Minsk Agreement, every day for years. In recent weeks, a more active battle plan seems to be emerging on the Russian side of Putin’s invasion battlefront in eastern Ukraine. The Russian army is using subversive and reconnaissance groups more and more in its attacks. Russian assault teams are trying to dislodge the Ukrainians from their defensive positions, and take ground.
Russia is bombarding Ukraine across the whole of the contact line in Luhansk and Donetsk regions, but three areas in particular are the focus of Russia’s assaults: the Bakhmut Road, the “PromZone” of Avdiivka, and the eastern approaches to Mariupol.
Russian invaders are trying to break through the front line along the Bakhmut Road in Luhansk region. This sector is 50 kilometres west-north-west of the Russian-occupied city of Luhansk. Centred on the village of Novotoshkivske, Russian assaults along the Bakhmut Road have been acute for two weeks. Russia has been directing artillery and mortar fire into residential areas of Novotoshkivske. Buildings have been been damaged, but so far there have been no civilian casualties. On June 14, Russia sent separate assault groups against Ukrainian defenders, under cover of mortar fire. Ukraine’s forward defence was a squad equipped with grenade launchers. One Ukrainian soldier, Ihor Petrov was heroic above and beyond the call of duty: he killed seven of the Russian attackers, and stopped the flanking manoeuvre of his position.Tragically, Ihor Petrov was killed in action.
Avdiivka is north of the Russian-occupied city of Donetsk. The battlefront where Russia is invading Europe in eastern Ukraine runs right through the “PromZone,” an industrial area at the southern end of Avdiivka. On June 16, a Russian subversive and reconnaissance group tried to outflank the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the "PromZone". The Russians were supported by fire from grenade launchers, heavy machine guns and small arms. The assault was unsuccessful, the Ukrainians held their ground, and the Russians were beaten off and were forced to retreat.
East and north-east of Mariupol, Russia’s invasion-occupation army continues its attacks in the vicinity of the villages of Shyrokyne, Lebedynske, Vodyane, and Talakivka. Under the cover of mortar fire and grenade launchers, Russian assault teams tried to capture the leading positions of the Ukrainian defenders. Without using weapons which violate the Minsk Agreement, Ukrainian soldiers did not allow the advance of the enemy, and no piece of Ukrainian land was lost.
Russia has not broken through the front line in any of its attacks. Russia’s armed forces have failed to take any ground from Ukrainian defenders since the Battle of Debaltseve at the beginning of 2015. But it is significant that Russia is initiating infantry assaults, and going beyond the usual artillery bombardments.
Putin’s army is testing the relatively new Joint Forces Operation (JFO) of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The Russians are probing for weakness in JFO defences, and would be quick to exploit any breakthrough they might achieve in the three sectors they are targeting. The Russians are also hoping to goad the Ukrainians into a disproportionately violent response, which the Kremlin would present to the world as an ‘escalation’ of the war on the part of Ukraine. The JFO has frustrated Putin’s intentions, as it has proven to be remarkably disciplined in its conduct of the war and measured in its responses to Russian assaults.
Russia is assaulting Ukraine all along the invasion front in eastern Ukraine. Other Western countries must prepare for the worst possibility, and not just hope that it doesn’t happen. That possibility is a full Russian offensive. The Russian aggressor is active on every battlefront, and its attacks are worst in Donbas. What is happening today along the Bakhmut Road, in the “PromZone” of Avdiivka, and on the eastern approaches to Mariupol may be a small taste of an expanded and more deadly global war of Russia against the West.