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When will the War in Donbas Flare Up Again?

By yurasumy, 25 March 2015

Yurasumy is a Ukrainian blogger. His life as a political activist began as a self-described “Bandera follower.” Eventually Yuri from the city of Sumy grew dissatisfied with the ideas of the first Maidan (2005) and is now one of the most popular bloggers on the Russian-speaking internet. A few months ago he was forced to leave Ukraine and is currently publishing his blog from Moscow. This is his forecast on the eventual renewal of hostilities in Eastern Ukraine.

Active military operations in the Donbas. When, by whom and how serious they are going to be. Lots of conjectures and speculations on this subject have been expressed, and even more will be as we approach the real military action.

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The Junta

It would be naïve and stupid to expect large-scale offensive operations by the troops of the junta in the coming weeks. The defeat at Debaltseve dealt a painful blow not only to the ego and morale of the troops. First, it meant an enormous loss of military equipment for Ukraine. Losses sustained during the whole winter campaign comprise more than a quarter of the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ combat vehicles and tanks involved, up to 1/6 of their entire artillery. And most of those losses are irrecoverable.

Of course all damaged vehicles that could be repaired have already returned to their detachments, but there is nothing in the stores to make up for the winter losses. UAF are forced to adopt new composition structures like 4-piece artillery batteries, some of the motorized (APC-equipped) infantry battalions actually became mere foot troops, and all new detachments being formed are structured as (APC-less) infantry from the very beginning.

More or less stable is the situation with the artillery. But here significant modifications have taken place too. UAF’s artillery is becoming increasingly towed, making it very vulnerable in modern warfare. Moreover, deficits have started emerging in some towed systems, like the 152 mm howitzer MSTA-B.

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A Ukrainian gunner poses with his “Rapira” anti-tank cannon. Kiev’s losses in self-propelled artillery make it rely on towed pieces.

Tank units keep on reducing the number of combat-ready units. Long gone are the days when the UAF could muster 10 tank battalions simultaneously, with full equipment and trained crews. Deficits in both equipment and crews could be explicitly seen during the winter campaign. In addition to the regular tank units, training ones were also thrown into combat. In fact, there is no one to form new detachments with, there is nothing to ride on, and nothing to do it for. Commissioning equipment currently in conservation was actually finished. All that could be given to the army has been repeatedly repaired and partially lost in previous battles. New equipment production is limited to single digits of units per month. All that is introduced into the system as new represents capitally renovated old platforms, a sufficient number of which rusts in the warehouses (about 2000 tanks and APCs). But to put this armada on tracks there are no parts, no facilities, no… money.

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Ukraine has thousands of main battle tanks in conservation.

Thus, as of today, the UAF can deploy to the front no more than 6-7 regular tank battalions, taking into account some of the training equipment which is already at the front. On paper, there are more of these, about 12 to 13, but on the average, they are about 50 percent equipped in terms of MBTs. Moreover, the rate of adding new armor battalions (equipment-wise) cannot exceed 1 battalion in 2 months, assuming there will be no losses at the front.

In terms of armored combat vehicles the situation is not much better. Delivery of new equipment is behind schedule. The reason is simple and somewhat comical. The West, announcing sanctions on Russia, has in fact organized a military-technical blockade of Ukraine. Ukraine does not produce many critical spare parts, especially engines, and cannot get these from abroad. Western suppliers denied selling them one after another. This has already disrupted a number of important programs: delivery of the “Dozor-B” armored vehicle has not begun, the number of “KrAZ” trucks for the junta’s army is just several dozen per month while the needs stand at (and the technical capacities are there to produce) hundreds; BTR (APC) production faces a shortage of spare parts which are critically needed for the repair of damaged equipment.

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An Ukrainian APC cannibalized for spare parts.

All of these factors, as mentioned above, have forced the junta to deprive of mobility not only new companies and brigades, many of which have yet to be formed, but also the “motorized” parts of the old UAF brigades. I cannot but agree with the chief editor of “Censor.ua” Yuri Butusov that the partial withdrawal of such precious resource, as military equipment, in order to transfer it to the newly formed detachments for partial motorization is more harmful than helpful. They will definitely not have time to become combat-ready units by the start of summer battles, and the lack of armor in the existing brigades will render their strike capabilities illusory.

But these are not all problems in equipping the Kiev’s troops. The first wave of demobilization is gaining momentum. Kiev did not dare to withhold it for soldiers from the first wave. Albeit temporarily, this will reduce the headcount of the first line detachments at the front (which already account for 30-35 thousand people as of January). Until new detachments are ready (May-June) any build-up of this group is out of the question (and there is a serious doubt as to whether Kiev will be able to maintain even this number). Moreover, battle-tested soldiers will be demobilized, and they will be replaced by those who had the bad luck of being cornered into service around the vast expanses of the Ukraine.

Conclusion. As I’ve done before, I argue that the junta will take no offensive action. They have no capabilities to do so. Even in theory until May-June, they will not be able not only to build up forces on the front line, but also to maintain the number of existing detachments. Moreover, the main limiting factor for the junta is not the number of personnel. The troops inadequate technical equipment, the capacity to supply the combat forces are the main reasons it is impossible to deploy a large concentration of junta troops.

In addition, the number of combat-ready units, tends to steadily decline since July 2014. At the beginning of the large-scale offensive against Donbass (late June – early July), the active task force numbered up to 50 thousand people. Now they are no more than 30 thousand. The rest are auxiliary parts (repair, supply and training units).

Nevertheless, there are powers that do not want PEACE in Donbass. The leaders of many Ukrainian “volunteer” units understand full well that lasting peace would mean their quick demise (even in physical terms). A war can prolong their agony and even justify their existence to the puppeteers behind the scenes. They can’t afford to miss this chance.

Novorossia’s Armed Forces

Not all is well in NAF in terms of preparation for active hostilities. Their problems are somewhat different. If the junta is no longer able to attack and its combat potential decreases with each campaign, the forces of the “republics” are not yet ready to perform large-scale offensive operations.

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Why was NAF able to hold a large-scale offensive in the summer and in the winter, in much better conditions, not so? There are two reasons. First, in the summer, the UAF did not expect the strike of the “North Wind” (Russian “volunteers”) forces, were caught in a frontal assault and suffered a fully predictable defeat, and in the winter the young Army of the Republics had to breach UAF’s fortified defenses. Second, in the winter it was decided that the “North Wind” forces would not participate in the battles, and the potential of the NAF troops is still insufficient for a large offensive.

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Planning for the second summer campaign involves the formation of a significant number of new NAF units (5-7 new motorized infantry brigades, 2-3 tank battalions, new artillery units). To do this, a large mobilization was declared. Moreover, not only the number of units will increase, but also their assigned firepower: artillery, armor. This was made possible thanks to the wealth of equipment captured from UAF during the winter campaign and Russia’s technical support. The formation and training of new units will end no earlier than the end of April (or in May). It is at this point that the NAF will surpass UAF at the front not only in terms of equipment, but also numerically (comparing actual field units, not just the human mass, herded by the junta for slaughter in the “zone of ATO”), and, considering the passive assistance from the “Northern wind” on minor sections of the front this superiority will be very noticeable.

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Conclusion. It would be naïve to expect any large-scale offensive action by the NAF before the end of April. Especially that premature action may disrupt UAF’s “demobilization”. Probing positions and artillery preparation may be there. Especially because it takes a few weeks to do it right (from the experience of the winter campaign).

In the coming weeks I do not expect the beginning of any large-scale offensive operations, even with limited objectives (e.g. capture / liberation of some city). At the same time tension will rise and gradual escalation of the new phase of the war will take place. Moreover, the degree and intensity of the confrontation will grow in a spiral, as in December and January. Turmoil in the camp of the junta (the Kolomoiskiy-Poroshenko infighting) could trigger an early collapse of the junta, but even in this case, it would be unwise on NAF’s part to advance (before their troops are really ready). And I think NAF’s command will not fall for this. And there is no reason to hurry. Each month that passes makes the junta relatively weaker.

Photos via U-96.livejournal.com

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