Pro-Moscow rebels, backed by what NATO says is the open participation of Russian troops, pressed on with their offensive on Sunday after restarting the war in eastern Ukraine with the first all-out assault since a truce five months ago.
U.S. President Barack Obama said Washington was considering all options short of military action to isolate Russia. The European Union called an emergency meeting of foreign ministers of its 28 member states. "We are deeply concerned about the latest break in the ceasefire and the aggression that these separatists -- with Russian backing, Russian equipment, Russian financing, Russian training and Russian troops -- are conducting," Obama told a news conference during a visit to India. "I will look at all additional options that are available to us short of military confrontation and try to address this issue. And we will be in close consultation with our international partners, particularly European partners."
NATO accuses Moscow of sending troops to fight on behalf of rebels in territory the Kremlin has dubbed "New Russia" in a war that has killed more than 5,000 people. In some of the strongest language ever from Brussels, Donald Tusk, the former Polish prime minister who now presides over EU summits European Council president, denounced "appeasement" of Moscow, a word with unmistakable World War Two connotations. (Reuters)
The Ukrainian army is essentially a ‘NATO legion’ which doesn’t pursue the national interests of Ukraine, but persists to restrict Russia, President Vladimir Putin says. “We often say: Ukrainian Army, Ukrainian Army. But who is really fighting there? There are, indeed, partially official units of armed forces, but largely there are the so-called ‘volunteer nationalist battalions’,” said Putin. He added that the intention of Ukrainian troops is connected with “achieving the geopolitical goals of restraining Russia.” Putin was addressing students in the city of St. Petersburg. According to Putin, the Ukrainian army “is not an army, but a foreign legion, in this case a foreign NATO legion, which, of course, doesn’t pursue the national interests of Ukraine.”
Kiev has been reluctant to find political solutions to the crisis in eastern Ukraine and only used the ceasefire to regroup its forces, the president stressed. “Unfortunately official Kiev authorities refuse to follow the path of a peaceful solution. They don’t want to resolve [the crisis] using political tools,” Putin said, adding that first Kiev authorities had first used law enforcement, then security services and then the army in the region. “It is essentially a civil war [in Ukraine]. In my view, many in Ukraine already understand this,” Putin added. (Russia Today)
That pretty much sums up where the politicians stand now that last September's Minsk Protocol has collapsed so spectacularly. The Prime Minister of the Donetsk Peoples Republic (DNR), Alexandr Zakharchenko emphatically declared that there will be no more ceasefires. What's happening on the ground? It's difficult to know from day to day. Both sides push their own versions of reality. However, I think the photo at the top of this post sums up the current situation on the ground in Novorossiya. At center front, with his fist in the air is Matros, a company commander in the DNR Sparta Battalion. Behind him and two of his soldiers stand a number of Ukrainian prisoners, probably from the 93d Brigade, the “cyborgs” that held part of the airport since last summer. This picture was taken at the airport a few days ago after it was finally captured by the rebels. This video was probably made shortly after the above photo was taken. The words of Matros ring truer than those of any politician... "It's only the beginning."
Let's listen to words of some of the men at the heart of this battle to better understand what's going on. In addition to Matros, hear the words of Motorola (Arseny Pavlov) and Givi (Mikail Tolstoy). Motorola is the 32 year old commander of the Sparta Battalion. He served in the Russian naval infantry in the 2nd Chechen War, but was a stone cutter before he joined the fighting last year. Givi commands the Somali Battalion. He served in the Ukrainian Army from 1998 to 2000 as a conscript tanker. After that he worked in a sling rope factory. Neither individual was a professional military man. They fought beside Strelkov at Slaviansk and were instrumental in closing and reducing the Iliovansk cauldron last August.
In this 16 January interview with Motorola, he describes how the Ukies launched an attack on his position at the airport and were repulsed before his battalion began the assault on the new terminal.
In this 17 January interview Givi describes the airport battles, the importance of suppressive fires and acknowledges the strength of the Ukies and the difficulties of the battles ahead. On 18 January he describes how he repulsed a Ukie attack that attempted to outflank the airport.
This is an interview with Givi and Matros in a more relaxed moment on 18 January. Soldier talk. I miss it.
What does the future hold? For men like Givi, Motorola and Matros hard battles are ahead. Putin appears to be solidly behind the rebels military offensive since he is keepng the voentorg supplies flowing. This is more important than any political support at the moment. Perhaps most important is whatever training and advisory support Russia is providing. The polite men in green seem to be going a bang up job and they certainly know how to STFU. I have no proof of this, but my experience tells me it is so. I'm envious of their expertise and success. This clearly contrasts with whatever training and advisory program is in place for the Ukrainian Army.
How far will Washington and the EU go to support the junta in Kiev? We had Standard and Poor cut Russia's credit rating to junk today. I seriously doubt this move will close the voentorg. If the rebels close and reduce a new cauldron at Debaltsteve, will the Ukrainian conscripts desert and/or defect en masse? Will Pravy Sektor and Svoboda overthrow the current junta in Kiev? Will the US and EU continue to support Kiev in that case? I have a feeling we'll have answers to these questions before General Mud arrives on the steppes of Ukraine.