The wider Russian invasion in Ukraine started on Ukraine’s Independence Day, August 24, 2014 with an assault in the central Donetsk Oblast (Amvrosiivka, Starobesheve). Later, the Russian troops took the southern port town of Novoazivsk, which was the operation that made the whole world (ex-Russia) recognize the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Simultaneously, in the town of Ilovaysk, several Ukrainian battalions, including the infamous Donbas-1, were encircled by Russian troops and sustained heavy losses.
Ukrainian command had planned to beat the “rebels” by October. In August, the Anti-Terrorist Operation moved well despite the backing that Russia gave to the terrorists. Russian Special Forces have been in the Donbas since April, constituting a good part of the “separatist” forces. On August 21, the New Pathway quoted the Ukrainian journalist Yuri Butusov saying that Russian troops in Ukraine included up to 3,000 soldiers. Now, the Ukrainian military estimates the Russian presence at up to 20,000 soldiers.
Being heavily armed, well-trained, backed by continuing artillery fire and even, reportedly, support from attack aircraft and helicopters, these Russian troops are advancing into Ukraine. Although warnings about an imminent Russian invasion have been plentiful, Ukrainian command had apparently hoped that that would not happen and now needs time to change strategy and tactics. The Ukrainian troops on the ground are in a large part battle-weary and depleted of armour and ammunition, while they are facing a fresh and better equipped adversary. The Russian invasion has also diminished Ukraine’s numerical advantage. The current plans of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence to prepare for a guerilla-type war on the Russia-occupied territory show the gravity of the situation.
Some in the West are so overwhelmed by Russian successes and by Putin’s sheer recklessness that Doomsday scenarios for Ukraine are now quite popular. A characteristic article appeared on German’s Spiegel Online on September 1, called “NATO Already sees Ukraine as a Loser”. Many Ukrainian observers are contemplating ways to win a long war after the whole south-east of Ukraine falls to Russia.
With the Ukrainian and Western public and media in disarray, governments are scrambling for solutions. The Ukrainian military is preparing a counter-offensive or at least defensive measures to contain the Russian invaders in particular areas of the Donbas and prevent a potential Russian breakthrough towards Mariupil and further to Crimea and Odesa. At the same time, President Poroshenko has talked about a new “peace plan”, about which talks started in Minsk, Belorussia on September 1, and involved the representatives of the “Peoples Republics”.
Western powers are also sending mixed signals. Last week, at its special meeting, the European Council failed to pass a decision on a new wave of sanctions against Russia. Numerous European politicians have promised to launch the new wave this week, but so far, there has been little details emerging. One suggestion, coming from the UK, is to cut Russia off the global SWIFT interbank payment system. Germany and France are saying that there is no military solution to the crisis and that Ukraine should not be given any weapons. While failing to address the question, why are the political means failing too, the leaders of Germany and France seem resolute to apply tougher sanctions on Russia. The Baltic States and Poland are advocating arms supplies to Ukraine, while Canada and the U.S. seem to support this idea.
All these issues will be discussed at the NATO summit in Wales this week. The expectations are that NATO will OK some arms supplies to Ukraine in one form or another. Ukraine’s government last week submitted a bill to shed the country’s neutral status. NATO’s Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has recently indicated that NATO may be ready to consider accepting Ukraine as its member, after Ukraine’s parliament adopts the law.