Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 13.10.2018
Russia’s war against Ukraine has lasted longer than the First World War did. Putin’s War in Donbas is like the Great War on the Western Front: trench warfare with minor movements of the battlefront and with no substantial use of air power. For three and a half years the Ukrainian army fought a passive and reactive defence of the homeland. But these days there are growing signs that Ukraine is switching to an active and robust posture on the battlefield. Pledges to liberate the Ukrainian land and people are sounding less and less like “just talk.”
The Russian Federation invasion army made territorial gains in the first year of the war, from February 2014 to February 2015. Muscovy had seized control of Crimea by March 2014, and in April 2014 it opened a new invasion front in Donbas. Subsequently, Ukrainian defenders were defeated by the Russian aggressors at the Battle of Ilovaisk, at the Battle of Luhansk Airport, at the Battle of Donetsk Airport, and at the Battle of Debaltseve.
Debaltseve marked the end of any territorial advance that Putin’s army was ever going to make. February 2015 marked the maximum extent of the Muscovites intrusion into eastern Ukraine. Since then the war has been mostly static trench warfare along a 427-kilometre-long battlefront. The Ukrainian army has been getting stronger and better equipped. The Russian army has been made up of contract soldiers – mercenaries – who are supplied with unlimited weapons and ammunition from the Russian Federation. Every day and night the Russians attack. Every day and night the Ukrainians repulse the assaults, inflicting casualties on the enemy. Ukraine has not suffered any defeat or given up any ground since the Battle of Debaltseve.
Very slowly, Ukraine is liberating Donbas. On the first of May 2018, the Armed Forces of Ukraine re-organized the defence of the homeland in Donbas under a new Joint Forces Operation (JFO). The mandate of the JFO showed that Ukraine’s military doctrine was shifting. Instead of a passive defence designed to not give ground to the enemy, the JFO promised a robust defence to strike back and take ground from the enemy. The purpose of the JFO is the return of territories occupied by the Russian Federation to Ukraine’s control.
Ukraine has liberated territory from Russian occupation troops at many points along the front line. South of Krymske the defences of the Bakhmut Road were pushed forward; the “Vil’nyy” farmstead in Zolote-4 was taken under control, and the front line advanced in that sector; ‘grey zone’ villages of Katerynivka and Novooleksandrivka in Luhansk region were taken under control; positions in the “Svitlodarsk Bulge” were taken from the enemy; ‘grey zone’ villages of Travneve and Hladosove north of the Russian-occupied city of Horlivka were taken under control; west of Horlivka, Shumy village and Chyhari hamlet (part of Pivdenne village) were liberated; Verkhniotoretske, north-west of the Russian-occupied city of Donetsk, was taken under control; Viktorivka, a hamlet south-east of the Russian-occupied city of Dokuchaevsk, was taken under control as recently as this week.
On October 12, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko held a meeting with military commanders in Khmelnytskyi region. President Poroshenko said that the Ukrainian military is entitled to return fire to Russian attacks using all weapons available. He advised the assembled officers to be ready for defence and to use counter-attacks. This is a far cry from the early days of Muscovy’s invasion of Ukraine, when Ukrainian soldiers were not given orders to shoot back. The Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine has given the order for a robust defence, to restore the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders. That means all of Luhansk and Donetsk regions and that means all of Crimea.
Ukraine is fighting back. The professionalism of the Armed Forces of Ukraine means that every attack by the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation is repulsed. Ukrainian soldiers who are defending their homeland exploit the weakness of the demoralized contract soldiers who are attacking them. Putin is not winning his war against Ukraine. Very slowly, Putin is losing territory in Donbas. Long ago, Putin lost the hearts and minds of the Ukrainian people. There is no telling when, but the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine will be defeated. Crimea and Donbas will be liberated. It will happen because Ukraine fights back.